Biggest Questions Facing Patriots Heading Into Training Camp
The Patriots had an extremely productive offseason and their roster looks even better than it did last season, just five months after winning the Super Bowl. They are the consensus favorite in the league to return to the Super Bowl next season (as most defending champions are), and on paper have one of their most talented rosters in the 17 years of Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach. However, like every team, they still have some things that they will need to address throughout July and August.
Depth on Offense
The Patriots biggest strength last year was the number of weapons they had on offense. Each of their receivers was a viable threat, and upon Dion Lewis’ return, the team had a full stable of talented running backs. The “problem” that they will have this year is figuring out how many players to keep at each position. The team added a number of talented players at each slot, which will be great for training camp depth, but difficult when it comes to cutting down the roster. At tight end the Patriots lost Martellus Bennett, but gained Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy, and Jacob Hollister. The Patriots added Brandin Cooks, Austin Carr, and Andrew Hawkins at receiver. They signed Rex Burkhead and traded for Mike Gillislee. These players are all talented, but the Patriots cannot keep them all because of an obvious need for depth on the defensive side of the ball. It will be interesting to see how many players they are willing to keep at each position. Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss believes the Patriots will stick with four running backs and six receivers, which makes sense considering the personnel they have at those positions, but also means that the Patriots may need to carry one less tight end or lineman.
Offensive line rotation
The Patriots offensive line is staying completely intact from last year after a fantastic season from Marcus Cannon and a solid rookie campaign from Joe Thuney. However, the Patriots did draft a number of offensive lineman, which means they may be seriously planning on replacing Nate Solder when he becomes a free agent after this season. It will be interesting to see the rotation in camp, and see who they have backing up Solder. That could be a glimpse into the future of the left tackle position for New England.
I think it is easy to say that the Patriots linebacking core was the teams weakest unit last season. They certainly had one of the most talented players on the team in Dont’a Hightower, but as a whole they had some serious deficiencies. Jonathan Freeny missed most of the year with an injury, and Jamie Collins was traded halfway through the season, both of which caused significant disruptions to the play of that unit. They had some nice surprises, like sixth round draft pick Elandon Roberts stepping up and showing serious promise. However, they had a lot of help from a defensive line that played fantastic against the run, and a strong secondary group that could step in for the linebackers to cover tight ends and sometimes running backs. It will be interesting to see if the additions of David Harris, Derek Rivers, and Harvey Langi can bring about a stronger performance from this group.
Rob Gronkowski’s health
Gronk missed the second half of last season, including the Super Bowl, due to a back injury. After having surgery late last fall, it’ll be important to watch how Gronk looks on the field. He seemed to fair well enough during OTAs, and said as much himself. However, training camp is a whole different beast, and it’ll be interesting to see if Gronk is truly back to his normal self. He has struggled with back problems since before even making it to the NFL, and it won’t be a good sign to see him dealing with that during camp.
This is less of a question, but more of a minor nugget that could prove rather interesting. Last year’s training camp and preseason saw Jimmy Garoppolo handle the majority of the Patriots reps, as he was set to start the first four games of the season in Tom Brady’s absence. It’ll be important to note how the Patriots handle that this pre-season. Naturally, most people will probably predict that Tom Brady will once again take over and command most of the reps (that is the most likely scenario in my opinion). However, if Garoppolo starts receiving as many or more snaps than Brady, it could be a subtle sign of the Patriots plans for the future at the quarterback position. It is most likely that nothing will come of this speculation, but it is still something that could raise some flags.
Until next time -B$