At this point of the summer, you certainly know the main storylines revolving around the New England Patriots. Fantastic writers such as Mike Reiss, Ben Volin, and plenty of others are all covering what's going on at training camp, but there are a handful of roster battles and performances that are flying under-the-radar. Here are some of my own observations after attending each public training camp practice this summer:
The long snapper competition is real
Danny Aiken has been New England's long snapper for the past three seasons, but after struggling with reliability last year, the coaching staff decided to bring in Harvard rookie Tyler Ott for the competition. Aiken has shared reps with Ott and has occasionally been overshadowed by him.
Aiken's problems over the years stem from low snaps on punts and general inconsistencies on field goals. Those issues have been apparent during training camp, most notably on punts, where he continues to force Ryan Allen to go low to catch the ball. On the other hand, Ott has been on the mark on nearly all of his reps. I would give the rookie the edge over Aiken, though there is a long way to go. At the least, it's a battle worth keeping an eye on, just like "Mesko vs. Allen" last summer.
Butler, Hawkins strong at corner
Brandon Browner is suspended for the first four regular season games and won't count against the 53-man roster, so I expect the Patriots to keep an extra corner on the roster. Rookies Malcolm Butler and Travis Hawkins have performed admirably well and could be candidates, though I'd give Butler the edge.
Butler is a 24-year-old rookie from West Alabama and has shown great skills lining up at slot corner. Though he has occasionally gotten burned playing outside, he has consistently picked up interceptions and pass deflections, and always appears to be in a good position to make a play. With plenty of talent ahead of him on the depth chart, Butler might not be able to stick, but he's certainly making a strong case for it.
Justin Jones needs time
Even though the Patriots have a relatively large roster, Justin Jones stands out on the field at 6-foot-8. However, despite being so physically imposing, it's clear that the rookie tight end needs more time. Drops plagued him over the course of the weekend and his route running is a bit stiff. He has struggled to create separation, which makes him a strong candidate for the practice squad.
Considering Jones' size and wide catch radius, he's worth keeping along, but I don't see him cracking the 53-man roster unless he makes a Kenbrell Thompkins-like improvement, who had a forgettable first week of training camp in 2013.
Someone must step up at kick returner
It's very early in camp, and it's nearly impossible to digest who is performing well as a kick returner since drills are done at half-speed, but whenever rookie running back Roy Finch has returned kicks, he has flashed intriguing speed and shiftiness. He's a player to watch for during the pre-season, because if he proves he can become a playmaker in the return game, then it would not be surprising if he wins a roster spot over veteran running back Brandon Bolden.