The 2019 Patriots training camp sessions begin this morning and football is finally back. Well maybe not the games that count yet, but we’ll have the Patriots and the NFL with us until Super Bowl LIV plays out in February. Hopefully, we’ll be looking at another Patriots appearance in the big game.
But… as Bill Belichick likes to say, “we have a long way to go.” The spring is a teaching camp and in actuality, the first two days of training camp will be a continuation of that. No pads, no hitting and there is really no way to gauge the play of the interior linemen or the running game yet.
We won’t be able to really gauge any of that stuff until Saturday when the pads come on for the first time. However, there are some things we are excited about watching this summer at training camp.
Isaiah Wynn and the LT Position: Wynn was the Patriots top draft pick a year ago and before we really got a sense of knowing how he could handle himself as a left tackle in the NFL, he was hurt. Trent Brown had taken over the position, pretty much from Day 1 and there was never that feeling that they were competing for the top spot.
Now Brown is gone, after signing a big-money deal with the Raiders. Wynn is coming off of that Achilles injury and missed all of the spring. Third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, someone we’re really high on here, is beginning camp on PUP after offseason quad surgery. Cole Croston is also on PUP, so I would expect to see more of Joe Thuney at left tackle this summer.
But make no mistake about it, this is Wynn’s position to win or lose. It is going to be a must-watch area when he takes part in the one-on-one battles with the edge players. Unfortunately, those are always as far away from the crowd as humanly possible.
With Sony Michel Out, Watch Damien Harris: I thought getting Harris in the third round of the draft was an absolute steal. At the time, I chalked it up to the Patriots just recognizing a good player who was too good to pass up. Now, that move looks brilliant.
Michel had a knee scope in the spring and it was supposed to be a minor thing. He missed all of minicamp and is now starting on PUP. Harris got a lot of reps in the spring and looked as good as advertised.
Harris is a good runner between the tackles, gets yards after contact, is an outstanding pass blocker and is an underrated pass receiver with very soft hands. Even with a healthy Michel, I expect Harris to see a lot of action this season. With Michel out, at least for now, look for him to accelerate that learning curve.
No Julian Edelman is Good News For the Other WRs: Edelman is Tom Brady’s best friend and most trusted receiver on the team. That brace on his thumb looks to be a minor issue and not something that should linger long. But him not being there just elevates everyone behind him on the depth chart to get reps with #12. And you know what? That is a good thing.
N’Keal Harry had a good spring, some solid moments mixed in with typical rookie moments. That is expected…from anyone. Harry has a reputation as a very hard worker and since the minicamp ended, I wouldn’t be surprised if he looks like a different guy this week. I would go all-in that he spent that off time getting deep into the playbook.
Braxton Berrios is another guy who could really benefit from Edelman’s absence. Berrios has never caught a pass from Brady in team drills, one can expect that dubious distinction to end very soon. Berrios has to stay healthy and on the field this summer. He had a pretty impressive spring and everything is falling in place for him to carve out a nice niche for himself in the offense. He could fit in the Danny Amendola role in 2019.
Jakobi Meyers is my dark-horse to make the 53-man roster at wide receiver. With Josh Gordon suspended for who knows how long and Demaryius Thomas on PUP, Meyers may be able to carve out a role in the offense. He’s a former QB and a big (6’2, 204) slot receiver. One thing that stood out during minicamp was that Meyers was invited to the side session with Brady, Hoyer, Josh McDaniels, and Harry. While it may not mean much, we believe that anything that goes down in Foxboro has a motive. It’ll be up to him to show us right or wrong.
Front Seven Play and How the Reps are Divided: The Patriots run defense was awful early in the season. It was especially bad along the defensive line. Eventually, the Patriots tightened that up and the run defense was a strength in the postseason. The Patriots lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But they brought in Mike Pennel, someone we were lobbying for when free agency started. He and Lawrence Guy should be a very stout early run-stuffing pair.
But the players on the edge are an intriguing bunch. Michael Bennett still has gas left in the tank …and plays with arguably the smallest shoulder pads on the team. Deatrich Wise starts on PUP which opens the door for more reps for John Simon, rookie Chase Winovich and some guys who are on the bubble. Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris are all guys who are looking to carve out a roster spot. Another guy to watch is Shalique Calhoun.
At linebacker, the Patriots have plenty of depth and a slimmed-down Dont’a Hightower, the return of Jamie Collins and the playmaking ability of Kyle Van Noy lends itself to the idea that the defense will continue to postseason trend of being very aggressive.
J.C. Jackson and Duke Dawson Have Big Year 2 Expectations: Jackson had a meteoric rise in 2018. But Bill Belichick tried to possibly send a message to him by giving most of the first-team reps to Jason McCourty this spring. Many people expect Jackson to be an even better player than Stephon Gilmore somewhere down the line. So, a lot of people will be watching him closely.
Dawson didn’t play at all in 2018 after coming off IR late in the year. Jonathan Jones cemented the slot role down and he and Dawson will be vying for that starting slot corner role. Rookie Joejuan Williams is a big corner in the Brandon Browner mold and is hoped to be a matchup piece in a ridiculously deep cornerback grouping.
Training camp is always chalked full of action with 90 players competing all over the field. One area we neglected to mention was the punting battle between Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey. This promises to be another intriguing positional battle.
Don’t expect too much in those first two days which are like minicamp with the lack of hitting and pads, But come Saturday morning, the fun should really begin.
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