The New England Patriots are officially five days and five practices through training camp, and the Patriots have a CBA-mandated day off today. That being said, although the training camp season is still young, we’ve already learned quite a lot about the 2013 New England Patriots. Here are ten things we know:
1. Aaron Dobson Ready to Contribute. This was a big question heading into training camp, as the Patriots’ second round pick got off to a slow start during OTA’s and mini-camp. Dobson has made strides since June, and has consistently played with the top unit on offense. At this point, he looks poised to be a major part of the Patriots offense in 2013.
2. Marcus Forston will play a role on the defensive line. The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle this training camp. They released Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love earlier in the offseason, and Armond Armstead remains on the NFI list as he recovers from an infection. There are still plenty of questions about the depth at the position, but Marcus Forston is one player who has stepped up thus far. Forston plays with good leverage and quickness, and should be a contributor in sub-packages this season.
3. Tim Tebow has a long way to go, but is making strides. While it is highly unlikely that Tim Tebow will see the field in 2013 as a quarterback, he needs to show enough developmental upside this season to warrant keeping him around. Tebow got off to a rough start to camp, but made some strides yesterday. While his deep ball has been good, he still needs to work on his release, accuracy, and when to tuck and run.
4. Josh Boyce could also contribute early. Aaron Dobson isn’t the Patriots only rookie receiver who looks ready to contribute in 2013. 4th round selection Josh Boyce has also floated near the top of the depth chart. While he’s had the occasional drop, he does one thing at an elite level: separate. If he can leverage that strength, he could very well contribute early and often, perhaps as the number three or number four target in the offense.
5. Marcus Cannon will push for the starting job at right guard. With Dan Connolly missing time at the start of camp, third year pro Marcus Cannon has supplanted him as the starter at right guard, at least in training camp. He’s looked solid. And while he has the body of a mammoth defensive tackle, he has the footwork of a tackle, which makes him a perfect fit at guard. It’s still early, but if Cannon can win the right guard spot, it will provide an injection of youth into the Patriots’ interior line.
6. Stevan Ridley’s ball security still an issue. Stevan Ridley’s issues with ball security have surfaced in each of his first two seasons as a pro. Thus far in training camp, that issue hasn’t gone away. To my count, he’s fumbled at least three times. Bill Belichick expects his running backs to take care of the football. And regardless of the fact that Ridley is the team’s most talented runner, he could see his playing time cut into if he continues to let the ball hit the ground. Recently, Shane Vereen has seen his workload upped because of this.
7. Chandler Jones looks primed to break out. The Patriots are expecting a lot from defensive end Chandler Jones in his sophomore season. And while we are just five practices into 2013, Jones looks ready to break out. He has added upper body strength and weight, and has been a dominant force in one on one drills. It has been a while since the Patriots have been able to say they’ve had a “sack artist” on their roster, but Chandler Jones may be able to provide that type of presence in 2013.
8. Patriots have a solid trio at cornerback. The Patriots have continuity at the cornerback position this year, as they are bringing back their three top options at the position in Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, and Alfonzo Dennard. Their play at camp has been very strong in camp, and you could argue that their play has been amongst the consistent of all the position groups.
9. Top trio emerges at safety, too. Similar to the competition at the cornerback position, a top trio has emerged at safety as well. Devin McCourty has been the primary free safety, while Adrian Wilson and Steve Gregory have split the majority of the snaps next to him. Many were hoping that Tavon Wilson could make the jump to a starting role in year two, but so far, his reps have been limited.
10. Playing time at tight end up for grabs. The tight end position is one that still appears to be wide open. With Rob Gronkowski on the active-PUP list, the Patriots have gotten the chance to work out several different players. Both Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells have performed well, as has rookie free agent Zach Sudfield. Jake Ballard has been a little bit stiff, but might not be 100% yet since returning from microfracture surgery. At this point, it looks like it could be Hoomanawanui as the #1 tight end to start the season, but it’s obvious the competition is still wide open.
Those are some of my thoughts on what we’ve seen thus far. What have your observations been? Additionally, what are some of the burning questions that you had heading into camp that have yet to be answered?