What happens in June obviously has little bearing when it comes to how September through December (and hopefully longer) will play out in the NFL, but here in New England it’s at least a preview of what to watch next month in training camp.
Here are some first impressions now that we’ve gotten a sense of what to look forward to in training camp next month.
1) Surprises Already Looming – One of the best parts of each season is seeing which surprise players could end up contributing and there are already a couple who appear to be adding themselves to the list of guys to watch when fans finally have the chance to watch this team start preparing for this season. We’ll pick one from each side of the football, one of which was a fighter last year and looks like he put a lot of work in over the offseason.
- CB – J.C. Jackson – The undrafted cornerback looks to be among the first surprises who is headed in the right direction. According to most media reports, Jackson has been impressive and has been playing opposite Stephon Gilmore thus far, with newcomer Jason McCourty mysteriously sitting on the sideline and not getting any reps. Obviously, it’s a little early to get excited, but if he can help provide quality depth and help that unit improve by infusing some youth and athleticism, that’s certainly not a bad thing.
- TE – Jacob Hollister – Hollister showed potential last season but looked like a boy among men, including several moments where he absorbed some brutal hits during his first season. This year, he’s put on weight and so far has been impressive, including making some big receptions, one of which came against safety Duron Harmon where he fought for the football down the seam. He’s said to be stronger and looks to be doing a good job of potentially establishing a place for himself on the depth chart if he can build on this heading into camp.
We won’t make put too big of a deal over it, but having another player behind Rob Gronkowski that can make some timely catches would be an improvement since the Patriots were certainly missing that after Martellus Bennett’s return last season ended up being short-lived. Things like Hollister’s growth are fun to see, and it looks like he’s on the right track.
2) No Drop Off In Brady’s Return – After an entire offseason worrying about Brady’s absence during the voluntary workouts, he stepped on the field during mandatory workouts and looked as focused and strong as ever. He returned with the same zip and touch on the football and it’s safe to say that his time away from the gridiron seems to have served him just fine.
3) Gronk Looks Gronk-esque Thus Far – Following the whispers of retirement after February’s loss, Rob Gronkowski looked fired up and as healthy as ever during his first workouts, which is certainly a good sign. He’s had some big moments so far, which have included high-stepping his way into the end zone on a touchdown and making life difficult for whichever teammate has been forced to cover him. Everyone knows how valuable he is and it’s good to know that it looks like he’ll be out there for at least another season.
4) Newcomer Trent Brown is a house – Left tackle remains one of the key areas to keep an eye on heading into camp and so far it appears that Brown is getting most of the work at that position. He’s massive, with the 6’8″ player fitting the mold of what Nate Solder (who is/was also 6’8″) held for them at that position. Brown is actually larger both in frame and weight and it will be interesting to see how he performs once the pads are on and the competition increases.
5) Punting Battle Looming? – When undrafted free agent Corey Bojorquez was brought in, many initially expected him to be an extra leg and take some of the load off of Ryan Allen heading into camp. But reports right now seem to indicate that Bojorquez has a powerful leg and seems poised to push Allen in the coming months. Allen finds himself in the final year of his contract and it appears the Patriots may be making some contingency plans if they can’t extend him. Allen’s directional kicking has been one of his signature skills and now it will be up to Bojorquez to try and master that in the preseason. A battle among punters isn’t exactly something you can call “exciting”, but it will certainly make things interesting.
6) Wynn Got Some Early Work – Rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn took advantage of the reps at left guard with Joe Thuney sidelined with a foot injury. He joined Brown on the left side of the line during minicamp and given the injuries this team has dealt with over the years at offensive line, the work he was able to get over that span will likely end up paying dividends down the road when training camp opens.
7) Gilmore Picking up Where He Left Off – So far Stephon Gilmore has picked right up from where he left off last season, looking much more comfortable at this stage of the year compared to last year when he struggled early. This may be one of the more important storylines of 2018 as setting the tone in the secondary and building confidence was a problem during the beginning of 2017. After a strong finish and a good start in minicamp, hopefully things come a little easier after a rough beginning for the former Buffalo Bills cornerback.
8) Hoyer vs Etling Battle Should Be Interesting – The next question will be given the importance of roster spots for this team, it will be hard not to wonder if the Patriots might go into the season with just two quarterbacks. The suspension of Julian Edelman – if it sticks – may factor into that since he’s been the team’s emergency 3rd quarterback in past years which, if Edelman is lost for the first four weeks, may provide Brian Hoyer with some security depending on where he winds up on the depth chart.
One thing is clear, Hoyer has regressed since the team parted ways with him originally. Aside from a vast knowledge of the offense, his reaction time and decision making have both been major knocks against him in watching him during his starts elsewhere. It’s disappointing because he was one of those players who was fun to root for as it’s always nice to see an underdog succeed. Unfortunately, he’s now in a position where if rookie Danny Etling progresses during training camp, his future beyond this year – or sooner – could be in doubt.
We’ll have to wait to see how each of these situations play out but what we saw during the team’s workouts certainly left us with some fun things to look forward to when the team kicks off their 2018 Training Camp just over a month from now.