It's good when players compete with quality opponents. They have to push their games up a level to keep from getting shut down. For years our offense has been the side that's pushed the defense. That transition began in training camp in 2007 with the influx of Randy Moss and Wes Welker. I believe we're finally to the point where the defense may be more formidable than the offense at the start of camp, but that remains to be seen.
A blacksmith can use a whetstone to sharpen even steel swords. An incompetent smith can dull the blade just as easily. One key to this year's training camp is ensuring that the right matchups are used to sharpen their competition. That is the challenge of Master Smith Belichick. Who is the sword and who is the stone? If you force a guy into a one on one match-up with elite competition, you may improve him, but you may just as easily dishearten him.
Revis is a shutdown corner because he shuts down elite receivers. If a guy doesn't have elite receiver potential, he's not likely to find success there. Part of camp competition will be finding matchups where guys can find success. It will also be about finding guys who can challenge them, and trying them against the best guys we have. The right mix that keeps guys fighting through hot summer days to come.
In the days ahead, there will be a number of camp battles, some one on one, some seven on seven, and some eleven on eleven as offense lines up across from the defense. Guys will hit each other, try each other, and fight each other. Some will get stronger. Some will be injured. Some will find jobs elsewhere. Some will grow into their potential. In the coming days, there will be a number of match-ups worth watching. Who is the sword and who is the stone?
Tom Brady vs Darrelle Revis
Whichever receiver draws the Revis card will get a guy that sticks closer than his own shadow. Revis can hit, stick, and follow better than any corner in the game, and often removes one player from the quarterback's progressions. Their will be times during training camp when Brady should simply ignore Revis' receiver. After all, there's got to be a guy that's more open, and that's the right read. Ask Revis if there is any quarterback that can challenge him, and he'll talk about Brady. There's times when Brady needs to beat Revis with his precision passing into tight windows that Revis can't touch. It's good for Brady, and it's good for Revis. Their both elite and they'll make each other better.
Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola vs Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan
Shifty is as shifty does. When it comes to shifty on offense, Edelman and Amendola have shown they have what it takes to get open. Arrington and Ryan have both shown they can defend the slot. This is a case where the offense leads the defense, IMO, so Arrington and Ryan should improve the most in this match-up. Occasionally, they'll put Revis on these guys to push them (hopefully when they line up wide), but his talents are wasted in the slot.
Rob Gronkowski vs Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon and Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis
When Gronkowski is healthy there's not a better tight-end in football. Other than an illegal bro-hug in the endzone, there's really no way to shut him down. That's the challenge Collins, Harmon, Browner, and Revis face. Last year Belichick put Talib on the teams number one target, even if that guy was a tight end. Rex Ryan has previously used Revis on Gronk on occasion. It's one of the few matchups that will be a true challenge for Revis. I can also see Harmon, Browner and Collins all used occasionally against the tight end. What better challenge than the best in the business? The better the competition Gronk faces, the stronger he'll come back. Part of the strength of our defense will depend on his recovery.
Vince Wilfork vs Logan Mankins
This has been a classic battle for years. Mankins may have slipped a bit. Wilfork will let him know. Wilfork may not be quite ready for a return. Mankins will let him know. As these two old sparring partners line up across from each other it will be immediate feedback about where they stand relative to one another. They've done this dance a hundred times.
Jamie Collins vs Shane Vereen
Collins is an athletic freak, but word is Vereen's speed is challenging for him. After adding a little needed bulk, one question about Collins is how has it affects his speed and explosiveness. Vereen is the guy to answer those questions. If Collins wants to take that next step, Vereen is the guy that will give him a run for his money.
Kenrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell vs Brandon Browner
Since it may be awhile before Aaron Dobson can lace them up, we're going to need a little help on the outside. While these guys aren't necessarily deep threats, they are guys that can challenge the sidelines. The best defense against that is a tall physical corner. Oh wait, we have one. I don't see these guys having loads of success against Revis, but Browner is the guy that can best sharpen their skills. At minimum, these guys should be able to widen the field and give the guys in the middle more room to work. Competing against Browner can make that happen.
Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden vs Jerod Mayo and Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins
Assuming the O-line is able to open running lanes, Mayo and Hightower need to be able to close them. I think Collins will pursue a lot of runs from the backside. I'm looking more for Hightower and Mayo to hold up if the guards make it to the second level. That was a strength of Spikes that we'll need to duplicate.
Vince Wilfork and the DTs vs whoever in the heck we have at Center and Right Guard
It's no secret the right interior of our line left something to be desired. More than once Brady was forced to scramble or took a sack from a guy running unblocked between the Center and Right Guard. That's not how you field an elite offense. Look for the Defensive Tackles to bring the heat on the interior of our offensive line this summer. BTW, McDaniels mentioned that Brady may intentionally do more throwing on the run. Here's hoping he doesn't have to.
Those are some of the match-ups to watch in camp this summer if you have a chance to visit the hallowed fields of Gillette. With the right honing, both the offense and the defense can be Razor sharp this year.