NFL New England Patriots

New England Patriots 2013 Training Camp Preview

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New England Patriots 2013 Training Camp Profile

New England Patriots
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have been making headlines this offseason for all the wrong reasons. A team that usually prides itself on staying away from controversy, they found themselves in the middle of the most sordid story in all of sports heading into training camp.

The Aaron Hernandez saga has dominated the headlines this summer, but the team is looking to move on.

The way for them to get back on track? Well that would be to get back on the field. When they start training camp on July 21, the Patriots will have a chance to take the story from the court room back to the locker room.

And despite all of the negative things that have happened to the team this offseason, they still head into the 2013 season as a championship contender. They may not be as strong on paper as they’ve been in prior years, but the roster isn’t as bad as the naysayers want it to seem.

The offense is again led by Tom Brady. While he might be on the back nine of his Hall of Fame career, he is still perfectly capable of being an elite NFL quarterback. The receiving corps may have lost top performers from last year, but they brought in a group that can get the job done.

And, while it’s been the offense that has carried the team in the last few years, the defense is ready to take the next step and do their part. They may not be ready to start doing all the heavy lifting in Foxboro, but they are good enough to stop being such a liability.

That upgraded defense, with what should be another top tier offense, has the Patriots ready to make another run at the Super Bowl title that has eluded them for almost a decade now.

Ben Sullivan is an NFL writer for Follow him on Twitter @bensullivan52, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

The quarterback situation in New England is as good as it gets in the league. Tom Brady is a future Hall of Famer and ready to come in and have another great year.

The action will be in the competition for the number two spot. Ryan Mallett has been the backup for the past two years and heads into camp ready to compete for his job.

But there’s this other guy, you may have heard of him at some point, Tim Tebow. Tebow brings headlines and controversy with him wherever he goes. But most importantly he brings leadership and wins. That track record alone will give him a real chance to compete for the backup job.

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Running Backs

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Stevan Ridley broke out in 2012 with 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. He comes into the season as the clear cut number one back in New England, something the team hasn’t had in quite a few years.

They also have good depth at the position, with talented Shane Vereen primed for his own breakout year and Brandon Bolden looking to build on the promise he showed in his rookie season.

Not satisfied there, the Patriots traded for LaGarrette Blount during the draft. Blount, who had a breakout year of his own in 2010, will compete for a roster spot this summer.

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Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The receiving corps in New England will have plenty of new faces this summer.

Gone is their leading receiver for the last five years, Wes Welker, and in comes Danny Amendola to take his place as the number one option in New England. Amendola will likely play all over the field, and Julian Edelman could end up being the guy to take over in the slot.

They also brought in former Minnesota Vikings wideout Michael Jenkins to give the team an experienced veteran in the group. The team has had varying success with veterans in the past, but Jenkins should get a chance to be in the starting group for the Pats.

They also added receivers through the draft. Aaron Dobson was taken in the second round and has the talent to be a playmaker in the NFL. Not done there, they also took Josh Boyce out of TCU in the fourth round. Both rookies will have a chance to show what they can do this summer.

Just a year ago the Patriots were heading into camp with the best tight end group in the league, but this year things are uncertain. Rob Gronkowski may or may not be healthy at any given point. If he can’t go, Jake Ballard is the likely candidate for playing time at the position.

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Offensive Line

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots come into the year with another solid offensive line group. Logan Mankins is one of the best interior lineman in the league and Nate Solder has improved every year at left tackle. Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell round out the unit at guard and center with Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle.

They brought in Will Svitek to provide depth at tackle and will use former fifth round pick Marcus Cannon on the interior.

Overall depth could be a problem for this group if they have a rash of injuries, but if they can stay to their top seven all year this unit will again be a position of strength in Foxboro.

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Defensive Line

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Vince Wilfork, heading into his tenth year in the league, will once again be the anchor of the defensive line for the Patriots.

Second year player Chandler Jones will look to build on his promising rookie season and the always underrated Rob Ninkovich will line up at the other end spot.

Depth and versatility are always valued on the New England defensive line, so the team brought in free agent Tommy Kelly from the Oakland Raiders to line up at the three technique tackle when they go to a 4-3.

The defensive line also has good young players in backup roles. Jake Bequette and Jermaine Cunningham have potential at defensive end.

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When the Patriots were winning Super Bowls, not just appearing in them, it was due in large part to their defense. And those defenses had really good linebackers. This year the linebackers in New England are ready to take that leap and be one of the better groups in the league.

Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes have proven to be top level playmakers, and second year guy Dont'a Hightower from Alabama could be the breakout player of the unit. Versatile Rob Ninkovich will join the linebackers at the other outside spot when they play a 3-4.

The team also added to the linebackers when they drafted another versatile player in the second round, Jamie Collins from the University of Southern Mississippi. Collins, who played defensive line, linebacker and defensive back in college, has the versatility the Pats covet and will fight for playing time this summer.

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Defensive Backs

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Another position of strength for the team when they were winning championships, the defensive backfield in New England has been a work in progress the last few years.

But that work is starting to pay off. Aqib Talib was brought in last year and proved that, when he can stay out of trouble off the field, he can be a true difference maker on it.

And speaking of players who can’t stay out of trouble off the field, his partner at corner may or may not be Alfonzo Dennard. If Dennard isn’t around this fall then his spot will go to either Ras-I Dowling, who needs a breakout year, or Kyle Arrington.

They brought in former Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson to compete for a starting job alongside converted corner Devin McCourty. Third round pick Duron Harmon will be in the mix for playing time at safety this summer too.

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Special Teams

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Zoltan Mesko returns as one of the best punters in the game. His strong leg consistently puts the defense in good positions on the field.

Stephen Gostkowski will again take care of the placekicking duties. A good but not great kicker, the team could look to improve on his 84.2 percent career field goal percentage.

Leon Washington was brought in to take over the kick return duties, but if he can’t solidify a roster spot then Julian Edelman or Devin McCourty could handle the job.

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Breakout Candidate: Danny Amendola

Danny Amedola
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Amendola was brought in this offseason to replace Wes Welker. Well, at least that is what it looked like when the team signed the similar looking receiver just days after Welker left for the Denver Broncos.

But injuries have always been a problem for Amendola. He can produce when healthy, and if he can stay on the field this year the stars are aligned for him to have a breakout year in 2013.

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Breakout Candidate: Jake Ballard

Jake Ballard
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Tight end used to be a position of strength for the Patriots. Just one year ago they had two of the best receiving tight ends in football. But this year one of those players will definitely not be on the team, and the other may be injured some or all of the year.

And that opens the door for Jake Ballard to have a breakout year in 2013. The former New York Giant may not be the receiving threat that Hernandez and Gronkowski have been, but he is a capable pass catcher and a really good run blocker.

Especially look for Ballard to be a factor in the red zone.

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Breakout Candidate: Dont'a Hightower

Dont'a Hightower
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Former first round pick Dont'a Hightower was brought in last year to round out a Patriots linebacker group that has been improving for several years.

After a promising rookie campaign, Hightower is ready for his breakout year this season.

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5 Questions The Patriots Must Answer During Training Camp

Training Camp Questions
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots head into training camp this year with more questions than any year in recent memory.

They’ve lost top players on offense, and the defense, while getting better, hasn’t yet shown it can carry the team.

These five questions must be answered for the Patriots to live up to expectations and go deep in the playoffs this year.

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Top 5 Training Camp Battles

Training Camp Battles
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things that makes NFL training camps so interesting are the position battles. Whether it’s older players fighting to stay on against young guys looking to take their spots or new additions going up against entrenched players, these battles are captivating.

And this year the Patriots have more legitimate position battles than they’ve had in many years. These are the top 5 battles to watch this year in training camp.

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2013 Depth Chart Predictions

Depth Chart Predictions
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The depth chart in New England has more new names than we’re used to seeing and more real questions than there have been in many years.

The depth chart predictions for the Patriots are more interesting this year than ever.