With the Patriots set to open Training Camp Thursday July 30th, lets take a look at things to keep an eye on during training camp.
With the decision of quarterback Tom Brady’s suspension appeal still not made, and could still be no decision made by the time New England opens training camp it will be interesting to see how much work each of the teams three quarterbacks see with the first team offense. With Brady and Garoppolo both splitting reps during the teams OTAs I would expect Brady and Garoppolo to continue splitting reps if there is still no decision regarding Brady. The Patriots need to be prepared if Brady’s suspension is not completely exonerated and he accepts the punishment handed down to him by the league and doesn’t fight the decision in court. Getting Garoppolo reps with the starting offense will be important for building a chemistry with the offense and so that the offense doesn’t miss a beat and continues to be a high powered offense with Garoppolo under center. It will also be interesting to see how recently signed quarterback Matt Flynn performs and if he takes any reps with the first team offense and challenge Garoppolo for the replacement starter/ backup quarterback position.
Another area to watch in training camp would be the team’s running back position. With Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley both gone, New England will need to replace both backs that have a very different style of play. Vereen was a receiving back that could play out of the backfield or be split out in a receiver role and will be harder to replace than Ridley. Vereen had a great chemistry with Brady and that showed in the Super Bowl when Vereen recorded 11 receptions. James White and Travaris Cadet are expected to be the main competitors for Vereen’s job. Another name to watch for will be Dion Lewis, who drew praise from both Brady and Belichick during OTAs. Ridley was inconsistent throughout his career in New England, at times showing he could be a top back in the league and then other times his fumbling issues and struggled to get on the field. Ridley started to get overshadowed by Blount during the 2013 season and after Blount left for Pittsburgh in the offseason, Ridley was back as starter for the 2014 season. After a torn ACL and a Blount return to New England it was pretty obvious that Ridley would not be in the teams plans for 2015. Blount is the veteran in New England’s backfield and has the experience in New England’s system and is expected to be the team’s main feature back, but is suspended for week ones matchup against Pittsburgh. With Blount out week one, Jonas Gray and Tyler Gaffney could be in-line to start week one and potentially going forward if they have a good camp and make the most of their opportunities. Gray burst on the scene after an incredible 200 yard 4 touchdown performance against the Colts then found himself in coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse after his alarm didn’t go off and showed up late for practice and saw very limited action the rest of the season. Gaffney was drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. After tearing his ACL at the beginning of training camp the Panthers placed Gaffney on waivers hoping he would clear waivers and the team would be able to put him on season-ending injured reserve, sadly for the Panthers Gaffney was claimed by the Patriots on waivers and was later placed on injured reserve. Bill Belichick has praised Gaffney and his work ethic, we will finally get to see Gaffney on field and see what he can do once training camp starts.
The Patriots drafted two offensive linemen in this years NFL Draft who could be ready to contribute right away. The team selected guard/center Tre Jackson from Florida State and guard Shaq Mason from Georgia Tech. Jackson played along side Patriots center Bryan Stork who the team drafted the year before and played great during his rookie year. Stork’s early success could help Jackson’s chances of being a week one starter or at least seeing significant time during his rookie season. Mason is a terrific run blocker but needs to develop more as a pass blocker. Mason played for Georgia Tech who was primarily a run team and didn’t throw the ball too often. Mason needs a little more time to develop and improve his game compared to Jackson. If Mason can elevate his pass blocking to the same level as his run blocking, he could become one of the better guards in the NFL. Last year’s starter Dan Connolly is currently a free agent and is reportedly considering retirement according to reports. With one starting spot on the line currently open it will be interesting to see if either of the rookies step up and earn the job or if someone whose been around like Cameron Fleming or Marcus Cannon will the win the second starting guard spot opposite last years starter Ryan Wendell, who may not be a lock for a starting position entering the 2015 season.
The Patriots drafted defensive tackle Malcolm Brown in the first round of this years NFL Draft. Brown was drafted to help a Patriots run defense that has struggled the past few seasons and to replace longtime Patriot Vince Wilfork, who signed with the Houston Texans this offseason. All eyes will be on Brown to see if he is the real deal and the new anchor of the defense after the departure of Wilfork. Another player to watch would be Jabaal Sheard, the Patriots biggest free agent signee this offseason. Sheard is a pass rushing DE/OLB and will be interesting to see where the Patriots line him up on the field.
The cornerback position is one that has widely been talked about after the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington, who were key pieces to the Patriots secondary last season. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler and third year man Logan Ryan are expected to be the teams starting corners heading into 2015. Both have shown signs of promise in their short careers and it will be interesting to see how each performs in training camp and see if either can transform themselves into the number one corner that the Patriots secondary is currently missing.
With less than three weeks until training camp kicks off these are things that I and many others will be looking forward to see when the team takes the field and prepares to defend their Super Bowl Championship.