The Patriots lead off the sports coverage this morning, with the Red Sox having had the night off. The Bruins are also in the news, having signed their captain to a new three year deal. There are also several interesting media columns for today out there as well.

The Patriots kick off their preseason with tonight’s opener in Cincinnati against the Bengals. Michael Felger outlines things to watch for in tonight’s opener, including special teams, where the coaching staff would like to see an improvement over last season. Jerome Solomon says that every play of tonight’s game will be monitored, as players will be working on specifics things individually as well as working within the scheme. Tom E Curran is eager to see Tom Brady on the field tonight, as the quaterback has had so much down time in camp there is speculation that he could be nursing some form of injury. Ian M Clark says that tonight’s opener will show how far some players have come and how far some have fallen, he too lists out some things to look for in the area of positional battles. Christopher Price says that the Patriots players remember last year’s preseason game with Cincinnati and how the Bengals had their way with them.

Alan Greenberg has an article on Matt Cassel, who looks forward to actually getting on the field and playing a game, something he hasn’t done with regularity since high school. Greenberg also compares Cassel to Tom Brady, and falls into one of the popular myths of Brady lore by saying that Brady shared the QB spot at Michigan with Drew Henson as a senior. This BSMW post back in February effectively squashed that notion. (Scroll down to the football section) Greenberg also gives us five players to watch in tonight’s opener. Chris Kennedy looks at Doug Flutie who is also looking forward to getting onto the field during the preseason. Felger also lists out the strongest and fastest on the Patriots rosters as well as the winners in a couple other categories.

Joe McDonald says that despite being in first place, the Red Sox still have a lot of work to do, starting with tonight’s series opener against the first place White Sox at Fenway. Garry Brown asserts that tonight’s matchup could very well be a playoff preview. (That’s another overused term, don’t you think? “possible playoff preview” It’s right up there with “could this be a turning point for the season”.) Kelsie Smith reports on Johnny Damon pursuing the batting crown despite his very sore shoulder. Jeff Horrigan says that Gabe Kapler’s reunion with the Red Sox is working out just fine for all involved.

Tony Massarotti says that for the Red Sox franchise, these are the “most successful days of their existence”. He’s talking about the 200 consecutive sellouts as well as the success on the field. Bob Hohler reports on Rafael Palmeiro, who was eligible to return to the Orioles lineup last night, but did not play. He looks at what is facing the slugger after having a positive test for steroids. David Heuschkel examines Curt Schilling’s success in the closer role. Joe Haggerty looks at Keith Foulke’s progress in returning from his surgery. Gordon Edes has a look ahead to the Red Sox 2006 schedule. Nick Cafardo’s notebook states that Manny Ramirez is making a strong case for league MVP. Horrigan’s notebook previews the Red Sox/White Sox rematch, this time at Fenway Park. Chris Snow files a minor league notebook in which he checks out AA ace Jon Lester, who is learning to be a leader with the Seadogs. He also reports on Craig Hansen being promoted to Portland.

Jumbo Joe Thornton signed a three year contract worth $20 Million to remain with the Boston Bruins. Steve Conroy and Fluto Shinzawa report on the signing. Kevin Paul Dupont says this is a good signing for Bruins fans. He claims strongly that had Thornton only signed the one-year qualifying offer, that the Bruins would have traded him. Mick Colageo says that this signing has enabled Mike O’Connell to at least save a little face. Steve Buckley (subscription only) states that now that Thornton has his money, he owes it to the fans to deliver by actually winning a couple of playoff rounds.

Jim McCabe covers the first round of the PGA Championship. George Kimball looks at a brutal opening round for Tiger Woods.

Bill Griffith looks at the HD coverage of preseason football. John Howell talks with former Red Sox announcer Sean McDonough, and suggests that he might be a great fit to join the New York Mets announcing crew, as the team prepares to launch their own channel. Jim Baker notes that this weekend marks the beginning of the transition from baseball to football on television. Scott’s Shots looks at Howard Bryant’s steroid column and book, reports on the Herald’s new Red Sox blog and has a number of other items. Regarding Bryant, I think its important to clarify that Bryant was not claiming that he had information that 50+ players had testified positive for steroids. He was merely passing on the rumor -and he indeed labeled it as such – that was told to him by a Major League Executive. Bryant made no such claims about what he felt about the rumors and in fact disclosed that baseball executives said the rumors were not true.

The New York papers look at a scary collision in the outfield for the Mets, report on the PGA Championship and the zoo that is the Yankees. These stories can be found on the New York Sports News page. If you’re looking for West coast news, feel free to puruse the headlines on the Bay Area Sports page.

UPN38 has Red Sox/White Sox at 7:00. WCVB Channel 5 has Patriots/Bengals preseason football at 7:30.