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MORSE: What to Watch For at Patriots Training Camp

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
July 28, 2021 at 11:58 am ET

MORSE: What to Watch For at Patriots Training Camp(PHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: Jul 28, 2021 11:58
🕑 Read Time: 5 minutes

These are the primary items that I will be watching for at the Training camp.  Most of these are pretty obvious but some are in-depth battles to make the team.

The Quarterback competition – “Cam is our quarterback”, is what Belichick said when Mac Jones was drafted.  On Tuesday, the day before training camp, Belichick has changed his tune.

“Every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance in whatever our role or capacity is,” he said. “It’s a new season. “Until we go out there, it’s pretty much a clean slate,” Belichick said in a videoconference call Tuesday.

During the OTAs and Mini Camp, the Patriots coaching staff through a lot of twists and turns at rookie QB Mac Jones.  They really put the pressure on with stunts, blitzes, and exotic coverages to see how Jones would react.  Jones checked down and passed underneath which didn’t impress those looking for his downfield throws but thrilled the coaches for his maturity in recognizing what the defense was giving him and taking it.   It appears he is much further advanced as a rookie in his knowledge of the playbook and how to handle these pressure plays.  I know these practices were in shorts and the hitting won’t start for 6 days.  However, from Belichick’s statement, one can assume that Jones has at least come even with Cam Newton and will be given a chance to win the starting job.  As far as Newton goes, I want to see what his completion percentage looks like.  Newton claims his shoulder hasn’t felt this good since the 2016 season.  This remains to be seen.  If Newton is throwing the ball as he did at the end of last season, Jones will win the job by default.  The big question is, has Newton corrected the numerous faults in his throwing motion.  Let the battle begin.

Defensive Line –  Last season’s DL unit was one of the worst in the NFL.  Belichick went out and grabbed three Free Agents to help improve that dubious distinction.     Davin Godchaux was the starting Nose Tackle for the Miami Dolphins.  He immediately should be part of the 1st pair of DTs.  Henry Anderson, a tall DT who played for NY Jets is an underrated player that bears watching to see if he can occupy two blockers, or if left one on one can wreak havoc on the opposition.  Montavius Adams saw limited time on the field from Green Bay.  He has yet to reach the promise he had coming into the league.  He is another wide body that should occupy space.  Should the competition be as good as I anticipate, Adams may have a hard time making this team.  What about rookie Christian Barmore?   I saw a lazy player when I watched Alabama on TV last season.  He also played only half of that snaps.  Reports have him moving at a high level.  I hope to see a player that is worthy of being drafted so high.

Linebacker / Edge – This position is loaded.  The Patriots will probably have a completely new set of starters from the 1st game last season.  The Patriots started John Simon (no longer on the team), J’Whaun Bentley, and Terez Hall (both fighting to make the team).  This is how much the team has improved.  Donta Hightower’s return is a godsend.  The addition of Free Agents Kyle Van Noy (MIA) currently on the Physically Unable to Play list (PUP) and Matt Judon (BAL)  potentially make this one of the best starting LB trios in the league.  Add the three youngsters, Josh Uche, Afernee Jennings, and Chase Winowich, who all received significant minutes last season.  I expect the three young LBs to make a significant jump this year.  Again, competition will bring out the best.

Wide Receiver –    We know what we have in Jakobi Meyers, a steady, reliable pass-catchers who led the team in receptions last season.  They added two Free Agents in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.  Gunner Olszewski has established himself as one of the best Punt Returners in the league.  Can he improve as a wide receiver and capture the slot role void left by the retirement of Julian Edelman?  What about the enigma of N’Keal Harry?  Can he improve enough to make a difference?  Harry has requested a trade and the Patriots might just oblige if they could find a taker.  There are always several other camp bodies at WR.  Will any emerge to claim a spot on the roster or practice squad?

Running Back –  This will be a really interesting competition.  Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, 4t round pick from Oklahoma is the key to the backfield.  His reputation is that of a pounding big back.  Nothing wrong with that!  We have won two Super Bowls with big pounding backs Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith.  It’s Stevenson’s surprising pass-catching ability and his special team’s play that could determine if other players make the team or not.  To start the first practice, Stevenson is on Non-Football Injury List.  Harris and Michel will share the load.  If Stevenson emerges as a running back threat, Michel may become expendable in a trade.  Michel is a Free Agent next year.  The hero of Super Bowl LI, James White appears to be safe.  He is the 3rd down specialist and can be used as a wide receiver.  JJ Taylor impressed the Patriots coaches last season enough to make the opening day 53 man roster.  Taylor was actually cut for the final 53 man roster on Sept 5th, signed to the Practice Squad, and activated for the 1st game.  We know he can catch the ball and has great moves and abilities to get away from tacklers.  His special teams’ abilities as the KO returner may give him an edge in making the team.  We can’t forget old veteran Special Teams ace Brandon Bolden, who opted out of last season.  Bolden is 31 and primarily Special Teams player, performing on all 4 Special Team units.  However, the Patriots didn’t miss him last year as their Special Teams finished as the number-ranked unit.   Lots of variables here.

Injuries – Injuries can make or break a team coming out of training camp.  The Patriots start the Pre-season Training Camp with ten players on PUP and three on NFI.

PUP

Stephon Gilmore

Chase Winowich

Dalton Keene

Jarret Stidham

Terez Hall

Byron Cowart

Brandon King

Devin Smith

 

Kyle Van Noy

Trent Brown

 

NFI

Rhamondre Stevenson

Joshuah Bledsoe

Cameron McGrone

 

It appears that Van Noy and Brown didn’t pass their conditioning runs and therefore are not allowed to practice until they do.

Jarret Stidham’s name on this list is a surprise.  I have no idea why he is on the list.

Rhamondre Stevenson on the NFI list was also a surprise.  According to position coach Ivan Fears, it’s a series of nagging injuries.  Stevenson was a full participant in the off-season practices.  Bledsoe and McGrone were drafted injured.  Bledsoe had a broken wrist and McGrone was an ACL.  McGrone will probably have a red-shirt year and be out for the season.

Offensive Line Coach – Can Carmen Bricillo handle the load as the only Offensive Line coach.  The late dismissal of OL coach Cole Popovich, for an unknown reason, has elevated Bricillo from assistant to the only line coach.   Luckily the Patriots have an outstanding veteran line that will not require a lot of coaching.  The proof will be if Bricillo can bring along the young backups and groom them to become future starters.

About Mark Morse

Merrimack Valley native and lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. My earliest memories of the Patriots were attending as a child with my dad, the off-season practice at Phillips Academy. I was at the Patriots game at Harvard Stadium in 1970 where Bob “Harpo” Gladieux was called out of the stands by the stadium announcer over the PA to play in the game. Analyzing the draft since ESPN first started to televise it in 1980 and former writer for the Lowell Sun Newspaper.


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