Patriots Preseason: Early Notes and Thoughts from Camp

Elsa

There's a lot of news about the Patriots that isn't making headlines. Here are Rich Hill's quick thoughts thus far.

As the Patriots are working through their second week of joint practices, there are some clear points to single out that might not warrant a post of its own. Here they are in rapid fire:

1) The Patriots have been trying out quarterbacks as of late, including Brady Quinn, Dominique Davis, Keith Price, and Korey Faulkner. Some might point to a possible move of Ryan Mallett (which is extremely unlikely at this point), or as an update on the emergency list as Mallett possibly tweaked his knee. Of course, Quinn has signed with the Dolphins so the Patriots were forced to update their emergency list.

Davis was accidentally reported as having signed with the Patriots, but it's interesting to note how Davis, Price, and Faulker are all athletic quarterbacks with different backgrounds. Faulkner is a small-school player who spent a year with the 49ers. Davis is a third year player who spent time with the Falcons and is the most mobile of the three. Price is a rookie out of Washington who broke most of Jake Locker's records in college. The main takeaway: the Patriots aren't looking for another statue of a quarterback to fill the roster.

2) While James White and Shane Vereen seem to be getting force fed repetitions in camp, Stevan Ridley is toiling away on the second team with his single-dimensional skillset. Don't read too much into this; Ridley is the best runner on the team, even if he's not the most versatile. White and Vereen present much more well-rounded bodies of work and, in camp, they need the most time to get comfortable with their route running. As a rookie and a continuously injured player, they need time.

Ridley is just going to run the ball. That's it. Less pressure to work with the 1s and get comfortable.

3) Brandon LaFell is quietly climbing up the depth chart, where it wouldn't be wrong to call him the third receiver in the depth chart behind Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. An oft-overlooked signing this off-season, it wouldn't be shocking to see LaFell put together a quality campaign, especially as a tall red zone target. He's been on the same page as Tom Brady, which is the most crucial factor in being involved in the offense. Edelman, Amendola, LaFell, and Kenbrell Thompkins are on the same page. That bodes well for this team, especially as Aaron Dobson's recovery looks to roll into the regular season.

4) Linked to the emergence of LaFell is the Patriots lack of tight end depth. Rookie Terrence Miller is the only pure receiving tight end on the roster, other than the injured D.J. Williams, and Miller wasn't in practice on Wednesday- a potential sign he'll be released to make space for either of the newly acquired defensive tackles. With growing comfort in the wide receivers, Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick are likely comfortable enough with the offensive weapons moving forward- especially since McDaniels never focuses on tight ends.

While it would be nice to bring in a Dustin Keller, the group of Michael Hoomanawanui, Ben Hartsock, and Steve Maneri make it pretty clear the team wants their tight ends to be excellent blockers. I don't see any pick-ups changing that mentality.

5) Dan Connolly is quietly having one of the strongest camps, getting tagged as an off-season award winner by Belichick. I've always been hard on Connolly for being the weak link of the offensive line, but he's been flourishing in his move back to center. It's extremely likely that Ryan Wendell will not make it to the regular season, while Bryan Stork gets a red shirt season. With Connolly at center, it's appearing like sophomore Josh Kline will get the nod at starting right guard.

6) It's worth noting how dinged up the Patriots defensive tackles have been. Here's the quick list:

ACL: Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley, Jerel Worthy

Achilles: Vince Wilfork

Hand: Sealver Siliga

Ankle: Chris Jones

Shoulder/Hamstring/Ankle: Ben Bass

That leaves Joe Vellano and Marcus Forston as the only healthy defensive tackles with NFL experience. Bill Belichick is definitely tapping into the injury market and has been making a special focus on acquiring injured players as of late. Some injured players burn him, like Ras-I Dowling, while others can eventually pay off, like Julian Edelman. The sustained health of the defensive tackles need to be in focus moving forward.

7) I'm expecting Darius Fleming to make the team as the 5th linebacker. He showed up well against Washington and the team is now grooming the linebacker to play on special teams. He flashes plenty of upside and ccould eventually develop into a starting caliber player. Keep an eye on his development the rest of camp as he's taking a spot from Steve Beauharnais, Ja'Gared Davis, or Chris White. Deontae Skinner is a name to focus on, too.

8) While we all gave Duron Harmon the inside edge at starting safety next to Devin McCourty, it's looking more-and-more likely that Pat Chung will get the situational starting spot. Against teams with dominant receivers, you can expect the Patriots to run more of a cover-two look, with both Harmon and McCourty as the deep safeties, but that's not an every-team scenario (and might not even be the case against any of the divisional rivals).

Instead, look for some cover-one looks, with McCourty as the single deep safety, while Chung roves in the box. Their skills complement each other tremendously, with Chung being a force against the run and being able to cover tight ends, while McCourty has range to play clean-up in the back.

Remember that Chung fell out of grace in 2011 when there were literally a dozen different players who lined up at safety. Chung was forced to slide to free safety where he was continuously beaten over the top. McCourty will allow Chung to play to each of their strengths, which must be enticing for the coaching staff.

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