Patriots Mini-Camp 2013: 5 Things to Watch For

USA Today Sports

In the midst of all this Tebow madness, it's easy to forget that Patriots mini-camp starts today. Here are five things to watch for over the next few days of practices.

Well...we're a little over 12 hours in, and I've already had my fill of Tim Tebow. This doesn't bode well for me.

Luckily, I have a very nice distraction to keep me busy. While the rest of the world is fawning over the New England Patriots' third string quarterback, Bill Belichick and the rest of the team will be getting ready to start mandatory minicamp, which begins today and will run through Thursday. Minicamp is that last little burst of activity before the entire NFL shuts down for a few months, and while at the end of the day there isn't a whole lot that we can take away from 3 days of mandatory practices, the alternative this morning would be to talk about what a great move signing Tebow was - and I just don't have the energy for that right now, especially because there will be so much going other activity on over the next few days. Here are five minicamp storylines in particular that I'm looking forward to following.

Receivers. The receiver storyline is one that has been ongoing ever since Wes Welker's departure, and I'm not expecting the depth chart to be any clearer come Friday morning. However, this week will be a great chance to see whether experience or youth, knowledge or talent, reliability or upside will win the day. It's EXTREMELY important that we all temper our expectations for rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, but it's also important that those guys get their share of reps. A receiving corps of Danny Amendola, Donald Jones, and Michael Jenkins won't be intimidating anyone, so look for some mix of old and new taking shape as Tommy B's main targets.

Base defense. Will the Patriots be running a 4-3 or a 3-4 in 2013? We all know that Belichick loves the the 3-4, but last year saw a lot of switching back and forth between both packages. So what will it be this year? All signs would initially point to returning to the 3-4, especially given the depth at linebacker and the lack thereof along the defensive line, but who knows what the coaches are thinking. Minicamp is all about getting a firm grasp on the playbook before everyone breaks for a few weeks, so I don't know how many crazy defensive formations Belichick is going to throw at his players. So while we won't know for sure whether 3-4 or 4-3 will be the name of the game in 2013 after this week, we should at least have a solid idea.

Reps for injured players. June minicamp is definitely not the place to rush guys back from injury/rehab, so don't expect to see any hobbled Patriots getting many (if any) reps over the next few days. However, it will certainly be a good sign to see Stevan Ridley, Jake Ballard, Aaron Hernandez, and maybe even Alfonzo Dennard getting at least a little time out on the field, as it will demonstrate real progress and assure that they will be ready for training camp. I certainly don't expect to see Dennard at all, but I'm hoping to hear that everyone else I mentioned at least saw limited action and fully expect to be ready for the official start of the season.

Surprise rookie standouts. It happens every year - a late round/undrafted rookie comes into camp, turns a lot of heads, and ends up not only making the roster, but contributing to the team directly on gameday. Last year it was Justin Francis (with honorable mention to Nate Ebner), the year before that it was Jeff Tarpinian, and in 2010 it was Kyle Love and Dane Fletcher. Who is going to hit the ground running in 2013? A lot of people were high on receiver T.J. Moe, but we'll have to wait until next year to see what he's capable of. So who will it be? Ben Bartholomew? Brandon Jones? Michael Buchanan?

Tim Tebow's first - and very likely last - media appearance. I know that I literally just said that I don't want to talk about Tebow anymore, but the bottom line is that he is going to address the media at some point today and I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention it here. Odds are, as he gets completely swarmed by media, that that he'll say all the right things - that he just feels blessed to be here, it's great to be back with coach McDaniels, he can't wait to start learning and help the team in any way he can, and all the other Patriots cliches we have come to know and love over the years. But after that, I think that how the Patriots handle him over the next few days will be fairly indicative of how available he will be to the media going forward. I'm hoping that's pretty much the last we'll hear of him for the rest of the year. If history is any indicator, all signs would point to him pretty much disappearing after this morning, which will be the best possible scenario for both Tebow and the Patriots.

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