With OTA's continuing this week (coinciding with media access to the practices this morning), and with most of the team's veterans including Tom Brady and Randy Moss in attendance, I think it would be interesting to highlight a few storylines that I will be watching as we move forward.
1. How are the leadership voids being filled?
One of the big questions this offseason was how the Patriots would fill the leadership void following the departures of players like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, and Richard Seymour. With mini-camp unfolding, it gives us a good chance to see who is developing as a leader. Last year, a lot was expected of Jerod Mayo, and this year, he gets to prove he can be a vocal leader for the Patriots. Same goes for Vince Wilfork, who even said that he expects himself to become a more vocal on field leader for the Patriots. Around this time of the year, you begin to see lesser expected leaders to emerge, such as David Patten did during the last round of OTA's.
2. How is the wide receiver competition shaping out?
This week is the first round of OTA's that will include Tom Brady throwing to his new targets. Last time, David Patten excelled, and now will be catching passes from Brady. Brandon Tate is finally healthy, it will be interesting to see how he looks. Veteran Torry Holt has only been with the team for a month and change, so I would like to see how quickly he can adjust to the Patriots' new system. Taylor Price won't be with the team until the middle of the month, but it will be interesting to see how he performs once he is ready as well.
3. How will the tight end position be utilized?
Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Alge Crumpler are all new acquisitions, and this will be their first time on the field with quarterback Tom Brady after a major turnover at the position. The Patriots haven't really used their tight ends much historically under Bill Belichick, it remains to be seen how and if that will change this season. We may get our first glimpse today.
4. Who will emerge at the outside linebacker spot?
While we obviously won't get an answer to this question, we will be able to see a few things from today's practice and practice moving forwards. Does Shawn Crable look healthy? How comfortable does rookie outside linebacker look in coverage? Ditto Derrick Burgess, who was seldom used in coverage in 2009 with the Patriots. This position should be a position of intense competition.
5. Will any young players appear to break out of their shells?
It happens every year. A player or two, who didn't do much if anything the prior season, will toy with the hearts of each Patriots fan with an "unbelievable" mini-camp performance. Of course, these practices are in shorts and t-shirts, so it remains to be seen whether or not the players actually can transition a strong mini-camp season to a strong training camp, preseason, and eventually regular season. Last year, Shawn Crable was the tease. This year, I've got a few players who come to mind: Brandon Tate, Terrence Wheatley, Tyrone McKenzie, and, yes again, Shawn Crable. Hopefully one or more of these players can transition a good OTA season to the real thing once the pads come on.
Other Storylines to Watch:
How will emerge as the early front runner to start next to Jerod Mayo?
Who will win the starting cornerback competition?
Who will replace Richard Seymour/Jarvis Green at right defensive end?
What veteran players won't make it to the training camp season (Pats roster currently stands at 86)?