The New England Patriots offense has had a good camp because the supporting cast is starting to emerge. We can even start to pencil in a handful of starters. Tom Brady at quarterback, Nate Solder, Shaq Mason, Bryan Stork, Tre Jackson, and Sebastian Vollmer as the offensive line, Rob Gronkowski at tight end, and Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell at wide receiver.
That leaves just two positions to fill on the field, and one of them will always be a running back (and LeGarrette Blount and James White look to have the inside lane at the rushing and receiving back roles, respectively).
That fifth skill spot is up the air and no one should expect it to be held by a single player. This final spot on the field will be filled according to the current game plan.
And, of course, Gronkowski, Edelman, and LaFell won't see 100% of the snaps. In goal line plays, Edelman might go to the sideline, or maybe LaFell will be eased back onto the field from his foot injury. But for the sake of scheming, they will on the field for 90+% of the time.
Through the first couple of days in camp, we can make our projection on which players will fill what role in each offensive scenario.
Power Offense, Short Yardage: Fullback James Develin
Develin was on the field for roughly 20% of the 2014 snaps and was pretty exclusively used as a lead blocker in the running game. Look for Develin to see that 5th blocker spot in short yardage situations, or against teams with notoriously weak offensive lines. For reference, Develin's season-high in snaps came against the Colts in the regular season. Look for him to see a similar, but potentially smaller, impact in 2015.
Smaller Defenses: Tight end Scott Chandler
Chandler has been working with Brady off to the side so he's definitely expected to have a reasonable impact in his first year with the team. He's huge in person and he'll have a major impact in the red zone and by drawing defenders away from the middle of the field. He will also be used as an extra run blocker, similar to Develin, but he'll help spread the smaller defenses and help by dominating with his size down the field. He'll be on the field for roughly 40% of the snaps.
Bigger Defenses, Good Defensive Lines: Wide receiver Danny Amendola
Amendola's best games came against bigger, longer defenses that struggled with change of direction game plans. When the Patriots play great defensive lines, look for Amendola to see some time as Brady will get rid of the ball as fast as possible. Amendola looks to pick up where he left off last season and he should also see roughly 30% of the snaps.
Bigger Defenses, Bad Defensive Lines: Wide receiver Aaron Dobson
Dobson has put together a fantastic camp and he's regaining Brady's trust. Dobson needs time on the field in order to grow and hopefully the coaching staff will give him the opportunities. If Amendola will be used to exploit defenses with a quick passing attack, look for Dobson to see the field when Brady has time in the pocket for plays to develop down the field. He should also see roughly 30% of the snaps.
You'll note that the percentages add up to over 100%. This is because of those extra situational snaps where either LaFell or Edelman will be on the sideline and players like Dobson and Amendola could see their snaps to give the starters a breather, or Chandler and Develin could see the field to provide additional bulk in the rushing game. This also doesn't include the extra offensive line blocker.
But the ultimate point is that the Patriots have a very versatile offense with plenty of players that deserve to see the field. It's a good problem to have.