Lots of positions/players will demand attention this summer
The Patriots headed into training camp this morning. The veterans had to report in and join the rookies who have been at it since Sunday. Now the dog days of summer begin as the team begins to come together on the field and the competition begins in earnest for roster spots in 2016. Here are four things that you need to be watching for.
It can be a daunting task, with 90 players running around on two separate practice fields, it can be a blur at times. While most fans that make the trek down to Gillette watch Brady and the wide receivers do their thing, there are lots of other activities going on that will also bear watching very closely this year. So let’s start with the elephant in the room.
How Will the Reps Break Out Between Brady and Garoppolo?
Normally this one is a no-brainer. Brady loves the work, the competition and tries to protect his snaps like a miser would a pile of gold dust. But with #12’s suspension, this year the coaches face an intriguing dilemma. How will the QB reps with the 1st team offense play itself out?
There is no more “if” Brady is suspended. It’s happening and he’s going to sit the first month of the season. Now Jimmy Garoppolo is no longer facing a possible scenario where he may be forced to play the first quarter of the season, he is.
Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniel will have to walk a fine line here. Garoppolo must be prepared to take the field on September 11 against the Cardinals and run the offense smoothly. Brady, on the other hand, has a lot of new weapons in the arsenal that he has to get comfortable with. Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell are all new faces who will be counted upon in 2016. And Brady WILL be the starting QB from Weeks 5 to 17 and beyond once the playoffs begin.
Brady can’t just skip training camp, then the first month of the season and be expected to be sharp against the Browns in Week 5. And Jimmy G. will also need time to work in a comfort level with the same players. There is no right or wrong answer here. The coaches will have to find a happy medium. I would expect Brady to get just a hair over the 50 percent mark in practice with Jimmy G, getting the lion’s share of preseason game work.
Who Steps Up at Running Back?
This was one of those positions we thought the team would address this offseason. But they mostly decided to stand pat. The only additions were veteran Donald Brown and UDFA D.J. Foster. As a result, this position is truly wide open.
With Dion Lewis coming off of an ACL injury in November and beginning camp on PUP, coupled with LeGarrette Blount coming off of a serious hip injury, the positions are there for the taking.
Blount has been a favorite of Bill Belichick and he did have a decent season before he was injured. He’s that punisher that the team likes when they get ahead on opponents and Blount has proved that when he can get to that second level, he’s very effective.
But if he can’t move effectively? The team is in a rough spot. For the big backs that can pound the ball, that would leave them with either Tyler Gaffney or Joey Iosefa. Gaffney is entering Year 3 and still hasn’t taken the field and Iosefa had one big play on his resume from a year ago. Brandon Bolden is just there for STs and as an emergency fill-in.
The team will clearly err on the side of caution with Lewis which opens up camp and preseason for the third down passing back role. James White was very good out of the backfield but the team showed zero confidence in him as a runner. Donald Brown is a vet who may be getting a little long in the tooth. He can do a bit of running and is a good receiver as well as an excellent blocker. Foster is an intriguing guy who looks dynamic out of the backfield. If he can prove he can run with the ball, he’ll be the guy to watch.
Cornerback Depth, Who’s #2 and #3?
Malcolm Butler is the Patriots top cornerback. That isn’t going to change unless he gets hurt this summer. But here is where things get interesting. While both Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman return after starting as the right and slot corners respectively, competition is wide open.
Top draft choice Cyrus Jones is going to push Coleman at a minimum for the starters job at slot corner. He may even push Ryan for the right corner spot and force him into the slot. But the competition doesn’t end there.
Also competing for a roster spot is 2nd-year player Darryl Roberts, veteran E.J. Biggers and UDFAs Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley. The young players are all on the smaller side but very athletic and have return ability.
Jones and LeBlanc stood out this spring, the final slot may come down to STs ability. Roberts made an outstanding play as a gunner in minicamp, something that had to catch the coaches eye. This will be a fun position to watch this summer.
Interior Offensive Line, crowded with New Faces:
While we thought the team would address tackle this spring, the team again threw us a curve and stood pat. But they added several new faces in the interior offensive line and how it plays out will bear watching.
The Pats brought in former 1st round pick Jonathan Cooper in the Chandler Jones trade. Injuries and inconsistent play have marked his career to date. Now he’s looking to reignite his career under Dante Scarnecchia. The team also drafted Joe Thuney and Ted Karras.
With Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason missing the spring workouts, it opens up some intriguing possibilities inside. Most assume Bryan Stork and David Andrews are locked in a positional battle for the center job. But Thuney took some snaps there as well this spring. Health and performance on the field will be the final decision makers here but we could be conceivably looking at a completely different interior of the line in September.
Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks and the safeties. And be sure to keep tuned into PatsFans.com during training camp as we’ll post daily updates from down in Gillette.