New England Patriots 2014 OTAs - Five Things We've Learned

Ian Logue
June 16, 2014 at 05:00am ET

Live: Good afternoon from Estadio Azteca
When it comes to Mexico trip, Bill Belichick leaves no stone unturned
Patriots notebook: Players close road trip in Mexico with stretch drive on tap
Guregian: Standard too high for Tom Brady to win MVP award
Kyle Van Noy is Patriots’ man for all reasons










With OTAs in the books for the Patriots and mini camps set to begin, it's been an interesting stretch recently as the team started working with quite a few new players who will hopefully help this team take the next step heading into the 2014 season.

Coming off of their AFC Championship loss earlier this year, this group seems to have a different feel and a new sense of urgency at this point in the offseason compared to we've seen in recent years.  With training camp just over a month away, it will still be a while before most fans will be able to get a look at this group with their own eyes. However, from what's been reported, it may be one that could also potentially end up making some serious noise this season.

From a personnel standpoint, it's hard not to feel as though they've improved on the defensive side of the football.  Free agent cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis are two of the most notable names having been added into the mix, which should be solid upgrades in a secondary that has already played better and showed encouraging signs of improvement last season.

Despite the free agent defection of cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots came out on top by adding Revis and also added a physical presence in Browner that's been lacking in past seasons.  Some experts still believe the Broncos will come out on top should these two teams meet again in the postseason, but how this team grows from September to December will ultimately determine whether or not they've got what it takes to prove they can contend for another championship.

There's still a long way to go and it's obviously a little too early to tell at this point what the future holds.  But looking back through OTAs, some players have already set some expectations for themselves.  Some will build on it, while others will end up looking for work in the months ahead.  However, for now, here's a quick rundown at some things that transpired which should be fun to watch in the weeks and months to come.









1) JULIAN EDELMAN PICKING UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF:

Despite signing a four-year contract worth $17 million this offseason, Edelman appears to be more focused than ever on proving that his 105 receptions were no fluke last season and that he'll still be an impact player in this offense in 2014.  

One of the bigger questions with Edelman has been how he would perform as a number one receiver against better competition, and he held his own in that role in 2013. Now with Revis in the fold, Edelman has an opportunity every day to make himself even better working against someone who is obviously considered one of the top defensive backs in the league.  

So far, Edelman appears to be doing just fine, with several reports that he's actually had success in spots against Revis in practice. The even more encouraging news is the fact that Edelman has been going all out and setting a strong example, which should hopefully be something the younger guys will try and follow.










2) SO FAR, SO GOOD FOR VINCE WILFORK:

Coming off of a torn Achilles, there have been plenty of doubts about the future of Wilfork and whether or not a man of his size could bounce back from such a significant injury.  Some had even written him off completely, believing that the team should have cut their ties with the veteran.  

However, according to most reports, Wilfork's recovery appears to be going well and he competed in most of the team's workouts, including the 11-on-11 drills held by the club.  With things going this well at this point in the offseason, it's hard not to feel confident that with a good training camp, Wilfork will step back into his role of being a key contributor up front for this football team. Although it wouldn't hurt if they're able to be a little deeper at this position in an effort to limit his snaps compared to recent seasons and reduce the tread remaining from the veteran.









3) THOMPKINS & BOYCE OFF TO A GOOD START:

Two players looking to make bigger contributions in 2014 are Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, who each went in two different directions last year during their rookie seasons.  

Thompkins started off strong early last season but by the end of the year became ineffective, having been inactive for three of the final four regular season games.  Boyce, meanwhile, seemed to improve by the end of last season, seeing his snap percentage increase, including a 72 play performance (87% of the offensive snaps) along with 3 catches for 49-yards against the Browns in Week 14 (all were first down conversions).  Unfortunately an ankle injury sent him to injured reserve, ending a stretch where he seemed to be gaining some momentum.  So far he's reportedly looked good and appears to be gaining confidence heading into camp.

As for Thompkins, he's reportedly bulked up to over 200 pounds, which after a year where he battled against some physical cornerbacks, it seemed to wear him down.  He finished 2013 with 32 receptions for 466 yards, with his 14.6 yards per reception finishing just second behind Rob Gronkowski (his average was 15.2) among receivers who caught over 10 passes last year.  He's made plays so far at this point of the offseason, and some feel he could be poised for a bigger 2014.









4) NUMBER THREE TIGHT END COMPETITION REMAINS OPEN:

Once again the Patriots find themselves waiting for Rob Gronkowski to get healthy, although this time around the situation is a little more significant given the fact the veteran is coming off of a torn ACL compared to a fractured forearm along with offseason back surgery, neither of which seemed to hamper him much when he did return prior to his season-ending injury against the Browns in Week 14.

The road remains a challenging one, which for the second straight year sets up opportunities behind him for lesser players to earn a role.  For now, barring a major change, Michael Hoomanawanui will likely continue as the team's back-up, but from there the situation is murky at best.  The 6'8" giant that is Justin Jones reportedly stood out during OTAs, but that was primarily due to his sheer size. Asa Watson, the brother of former Patriots tight end Ben Watson, also reportedly didn't do much to standout and we haven't heard much regarding recently signed Kyle Auffray.

Obviously it's too early to draw many conclusions from what's transpired, but for now it appears to be Hoomanwanui and then a big question mark. There's still a possibility we could see them bring in a free agent tight end, but the team is still stuck once again trying to solve this dilemma for the second straight offseason with just a little over a month to go before training camp opens.








Devin McCourty is the only player secure at the safety position. (USA TODAY Images)

5) SAFETY BATTLE SHOULD BE FUN TO WATCH MOVING FORWARD:

The group heading into training camp at the safety position is one that should set up an interesting battle in the months ahead.  Devin McCourty is obviously the incumbent at one spot, but the bigger question is going to be who will be lining up alongside him by the time the regular season begins.  

Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, and Duron Harmon each got their shot during the team's recent OTAs, but Harmon's ball instincts and his performance last year gave the Patriots enough confidence to part ways with Steve Gregory this offseason and potentially make it his job to lose.  Many people questioned the team's decision to take him in the third round last year but by the time the season came to an end, Harmon proved that he could potentially be a playmaker on this football team.  He's had his moments once again thus far.  Now it's just up to him to reach out and grab the opportunity that seems to be in front of him.

It's tough to make any assumptions in June about how what's transpired will affect this team by the time the season begins.  But so far with the way things are beginning to unfold, there should be some terrific battles shaping up and that will make the upcoming mini camps, training camp and the exhibition season an interesting one to say the least.

THE LATEST FROM PATSFANS.COM: