What I'll Be Watching for As Patriots Training Camp Opens

Derek Havens
July 29, 2015 at 09:00am ET

Shawn Windsor: Lions prove they aren’t dead in win over Patriots
ICYMI in NFL Week 3: When is a sack legal? Hard to know now
Patriots fall to 1-2 with ugly loss to Lions
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski confirms he squashed trade to Lions
Giants, Bills, Seahawks, Lions fans are breathing easier

After a summer hiatus, I'm back.

Ok, I'm sure all of you are more focused on the Patriots returning to the practice field. With the team reporting Wednesday, July 29, we'll get our first access later this week.

Let's put the Deflategate narrative aside, we'll focus on the field. With training camp just about underway, here's what I'll be looking for over the weekend. --

- With Tom Brady's status in limbo for the upcoming season, how will Bill Belichick split up the reps in practice? Will Jimmy Garoppolo have a shot with the expected starters?

In the same vein, how has Garoppolo progressed from his rookie season? Does he have command in the offense? is he able to make progressions and accurate throws? His overall development could have huge implications moving forward.

- The cornerback position will be under a microscope throughout camp. Bradley Fletcher, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Robert McClain and the recently added Tarell Brown will be in the mix to start. After the departure of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington, they'll be an all new starting lineup in New England.

- Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo did not open up the week on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which was a surprise to many. Will they be able to contribute in camp? Doubtful. But it would be great to see them take part in any drills as they gear up for the season.

- Does Dominique Easley make an appearance? What does he look like? The 2013 first-round pick has a ton of potential, but knee injuries have held him back. Is he the mix? How is he moving? If he can start off the season on a healthy note he could add a boost to the interior pass rush. He will open up camp on the PUP list, so who knows what his participation level will be.

- With Shane Vereen in New York, the third-down tailback role is up in the air. LeGarratte Blount will get a lions share of the carries, but Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, James White, Dion Lewis, Tyler Gaffney and Travaris Cadet will fight for a legit role in the offense.

- With Dan Connolly retiring, who will fill in at left guard? Josh Kline and rookie Tre Jackson come to mind, but the team could play musical chairs in the first few weeks until the coaching staff feels comfortable with a starting five.

- Defensive end Jabaal Sheard is one of -- if not the -- biggest free agent signings of the off-season for the team. It's hard to evaluate line play during training camp practices, but how does he look? Where does he line up? Is he explosive and can he work his way into the starting group or significant reps? Many are hoping the front seven turns up the heat with the secondary in flux, Sheard could be a part of that.