Patriots Training Camp Preview
Football is back! We are just days away from Patriots training camp and after what was a tough 2020 season there’s a lot to be excited about heading into Patriots training camp this year. The team had one of it’s most aggressive off-seasons in history, bringing in a number of All Pro/Pro Bowl caliber talents. They drafted their potential next franchise QB, Mac Jones with their first round draft pick. They have a number of good young players, drafted in recent years ready to break through. The roster was weak heading into training camp last year and it showed throughout the season. It was a post-Brady reset to say the least. This year the Patriots go into camp with a lot more talent, much better competition and more interesting story lines. Here’s some of my thoughts, questions and what I’ll be watching for as we head into camp:
The Patriots added two of the best tight ends in the NFL this offseason with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. You’d have to imagine the Patriots are going to dust off their 2010-2012 playbook and bring back the offense built around Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. It will be interesting to see exactly how the Patriots plan to run their offense and how much they use these tight ends.
I have a blog about the QB’s coming so I won’t go into too much detail here but the QB competition is inevitably going to be the story of Patriots training camp. It will be interesting to see how the practice reps are broken up. Stidham should get limited reps. Why is Hoyer even here? This should be all about Cam and Mac.
Damien Harris seems primed and ready to explode on the scene and become a 1,000 yard back. He has everything you look for in a running back and he’s been getting better every year. He could be special and I want to see it early and often this training camp and preseason.
How will the 3rd down back role play out? Will JJ Taylor flash again and take over that role or will Jimmy White hang onto it for one more year? JJ Taylor is most definitely a player to watch this training camp.
If you look back at the careers of guys like Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, they were all terrific punt returners early on but it took them a couple years to figure out the receiver position but once they did, they took off. I’m interested to see if Gunner Olszewski has the same type of ascent coming his way. He’s an all-pro punt returner, now let’s see if he can become they type of receiver those other guys became.
How good can Jakobi Meyers get? Looking to see him make an even bigger jump from what he did in 2020. I’m also interested to see how receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne fit in on this team. They seem like good fits, as long as the QB can get them the ball.
How will the offensive line shuffle play out? Will Michael Onwenu start at guard or tackle? Same goes for Isaiah Wynn. If I had to give you my guess for how it will shake out it would be: LT- Wynn, LG- Onwenu, C- Andrews, RG-Mason, RT-Brown. Don’t sleep on Justin Herron though. He could have something to say about those starting tackle jobs. This is one of the more versatile offensive line groups the Patriots have had in a while.
I expect Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Matt Judon and Josh Uche to start at Linebacker in the Patriots 3-4 defense. What does that mean for Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Anfernee Jennings? The Patriots have great depth at Linebacker but that means someone good is not getting reps. I could see Winovich as the odd man out. It will be interesting to see if Uche makes the leap I expect him to and bumps Bentley out of playing time.
Kyle Dugger. I love this kid. I’m excited to watch him continue to grow and become one of the best players on this defense. Sophomore slumps can be a real thing, I want to see Dugger motivated right from the start of camp.
Someone has to emerge at cornerback behind Gilmore, Jackson and Jones. Interested to see what Jalen Mills’ role is on this defense. Is he a corner? Is he a safety? The Patriots have to replace Jason McCourty. The depth at corner concerns me a little bit.
Speaking of Gilmore, how long will he be out of camp. He reported, which most people didn’t think he’d do but upon reporting he was put on the injured list. He is looking for a new contract so it’s possible the Patriots put him on the injured list until a new deal can be figured out. Curious to see how the Gilly situation plays out.
Will all the additions on the defensive line improve the run defense? That was a major issue for this team in 2020 and they added guys like Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams in free agency while spending their second round pick on Christian Barmore. The Patriots identified a weakness and worked hard to fix it, will it work?
Is Nick Folk still the guy? No one thought he would be last year but he was lights out and one of the best players on the team. A rookie failed to beat him out last year, now we have a new rookie, Quinn Nordin looking to knock him off.
Bill Belichick. Bill’s not coming off his best season and his former QB won the Super Bowl. He is normally highly motivated but his motivation will be on another level this year. I’m curious to see how he treats training camp and approaches the preseason games. I want to see if he plays the kid or rolls with Cam at QB. He added the pieces to have an explosive offense, he just needs the QB to run it. Adding players like Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy give me the scenes that Belichick plans on having an aggressive defense this year, I want to see how that pans out. Can he get this team back to the playoffs? This could be a make or break season for Bill Belichick. Has he lost a step or is he still the best coach in the NFL?