By Connor Fulton @ConnorFultonRS on July 16, 2014
It’s almost that time of year again. In a matter of single-digit days, the New England Patriots will be enduring the dog days of training camp. There is much to be decided before the Pats take the field in Week 1, but one thing is certain: the Patriots have added an abundance of talent over the offseason that will make training camp very interesting. Let’s take a closer look at what will go down in Foxboro, Mass. later this month.
On July 23, Patriots veterans will report to training camp. After a night of nervous sleep, practice will begin July 24 at 9:15 a.m. sharp on the training fields adjacent to Gillette Stadium. Practices will continue to begin at 9:15 a.m. through July 27; details on ensuing sessions have yet to be announced.
For the first time since 2010, the Patriots are expected to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. Ryan Mallett and second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo will battle it out for the backup job behind Tom Brady. As of right now, Mallett has the upper-hand because of his experience in the Patriots’ offense, but that could change if Garoppolo impresses in camp.
The locks to make the roster are Stevan Ridley (although he must improve his ball security), Shane Vereen and fourth-round pick James White. The fourth running back spot will be up for grabs, with veteran Brandon Bolden competing against undrafted rookie free agents Roy Finch and Stephen Houston.
James Develin is expected to hold his starting job at fullback. He has also been taking reps at tight end.
Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson and free-agent pickup Brandon LaFell appear to be the only guarantees to make the roster at wide receiver. Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and seventh-rounder Jeremy Gallon will duke it out for the final two spots. At tight end, veterans Michael Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams will look to fend off undrafted rookies Asa Watson and Justin Jones for the two spots behind Rob Gronkowksi.
The Patriots are fortunate to have the bulk of last year’s unit returning. Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell should all make the roster, but Wendell’s starting status at center is in serious jeopardy due to the addition of rookie Bryan Stork. The Pats’ other draft picks on the offensive line, Jon Halapio and Cameron Fleming, will have an uphill battle to make the team.
All of a sudden, the Patriots have a menacing defensive line. Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly have the starting interior positions sealed, and Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are penciled-in as the starters on the outside. Newcomers Dominique Easley and Will Smith are also expected to make immediate impacts. Beyond those six guys, a combination of unproven veterans and rookies will fight for the final depth chart spots.
In what could be a lethal triplet of linebackers, the projected starters in the Pats’ 4-3 scheme are Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. Keep an eye on offseason pickup James Anderson, who excels in coverage, and Steve Beauharnais, who will help pick up the slack on run defense after Brandon Spikes’ departure.
It’s been quite awhile since the Patriots have fielded such a studded secondary. Darrelle Revis will undoubtedly be the No. 1 corner, with Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard battling for the second spot while newcomer Brandon Browner is suspended for the month of September. Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon are slated to start at safety. Watch out for rookie defensive back Jemea Thomas making a run at playing time.
Speaking of Jemea Thomas, his best bet to make the team could be as a kick returner. Other candidates for that duty include Roy Finch and Josh Boyce, with Julian Edelman expected to resume his role of punt returning. Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen own the kicker and punter positions, respectively.
Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell will be fighting tooth and nail against each other for the starting center position. It is paramount that the Patriots improve in this area in 2014 — either Wendell must show that he has gotten better over the offseason, or the rookie must step up and make an immediate impact. This writer has Stork edging Wendell in what will be a very tight battle.
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