Patriots training camp begins tomorrow and football season has now officially begun. I believe the patriots have the most talented roster in the NFL, but there are plenty of questions surrounding the team as the season starts. In no particular order here are the things I am looking forward to watching this year during camp and the preseason games.
1) What is the depth chart at running back going to look like?
One of the biggest needs entering this offseason was running back, and the Patriots made no changes to the position other than bringing in veteran journeyman Donald Brown and undrafted rookie free agent D.J. Foster. Dion Lewis was phenomenal last year before getting hurt, but he cannot continue to play 66% of the snaps if the team wants him to stay healthy all season. Behind Lewis the position is wide open, and running backs coach Ivan Fears knows it, saying today: “Yeah, we’re not going to make any decisions until we have to. Not until we have to. Until then we’re going to keep our minds open, keep watching, keep encouraging and see what they do.” Lewis is the only lock and I am very interested to see how it shakes out between Blount, Brown, James White, and D.J. Foster.
2) The Health of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola
Both receivers had surgery in the spring and both were placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start camp. I’m not reading into this too much because any player who is a little nicked up usually starts camp on the PUP as a precaution incase anything happens to them in camp, they can be held out the first six weeks and not count against the roster. Reports are that Edelman is close to being a full go, and Amendola isn’t far behind. Having both players healthy is paramount if the team wants Jimmy G to succeed. Young, inexperienced quarterbacks need receivers who can consistently get open quickly, and you’d be hard pressed to find many better than these two.
3) Who Starts on the Offensive line
Dante Scarnecchia is back and it didn’t take him long to change things. Today he had this to say about the amount of moving parts on the offensive line: “I think that’s huge. I really do. They had so many guys playing multiple positions [last year], and we believe in continuity and trying to keep the same guys next to each other as much as we can you can’t always do that, [but] I think that was a huge deal last year and hopefully we won’t get into that situation this year. Keep working with the same guys day in and day out, and hopefully they will improve.” Well now that we know there won’t be a rotation at center and guard, there should be a great competition to lock down those starting spots.
4) The Rotation at Defensive End
When the Patriots traded Chandler Jones, they traded away their best pass rusher and leader in sacks last year. The addition of Jabaal Sheard last year helped take the load off of both Jones and Rob Ninkovich, and when healthy Sheard was probably our best pass rusher. Expect the team to continue with a rotational approach after adding veterans Chris Long and Shea McClellan to the mix. Second year players Trey Flowers and Geno Grissom also figure to get more snaps. Despite trading Jones there is still an abundance of talent here, so don’t expect the production to drop off, but there are not a lot of snaps to go around, and seeing who gets them will be a fun battle to follow.
5) The Play of Jimmy Garappolo
This one is obvious. Everything Jimmy does will be under the microscope, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to watch. He has improved each year, but now it actually matters. He will no longer be going up against guys who are going to be cut, this is the real deal. How quickly can he build the chemistry with his receivers that will be necessary if the Patriots want to go into Arizona opening night and win? Garappolo is going to have an unfair amount of pressure on him, but they say good players shine brightest under pressure, and I for one cannot wait to see how he handles it.