The New England Patriots have been on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium each day from Thursday through Sunday. Yesterday, the team had its first off-day of the 2015 training camp, which gave us time to reflect and look back.
As a result of all the reflecting (and the spare time), here is a quick run-down of players, who looked like they have improved or solidified their roster spot during training camp, and of those, who didn't and need to re-bound over the course of the next practice sessions.
Note: Even though they all have had a terrific camp thus far, players like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Jamie Collins or Devin McCourty etc. are not included because their roles and roster spots are set in stone.
After an injury-plagued sophomore season, Dobson finds himself in a make-or-break situation this year. Luckily for him, he has had a very good training camp. With starting wide receiver Brandon LaFell on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, Dobson made the best of his increased rep count, often practicing with what would be the first offensive unit and making a number of big plays (like this one). In the process of doing so, he displayed good route running, catch radius and hands. If he can keep building on his first four days, the third-year receiver will find a spot on the team's 53-man roster.
One of the Patriots' Super Bowl heroes, Butler's role entering his second year in the league was subject to a lot of speculation given the fact that the team's top three cornerbacks from 2014 – Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington – all left the team via free agency. Through opening week of training camp, we have a little more clarity and it seems as if a starting role will be Butler's to lose. After all, he was the team's best cornerback during the first four sessions. He covered his opponents tightly and displayed a good timing breaking up arriving passes, all while looking very confident in his skills.
Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason
It is hard not to bunch these two together. Both rookies and both starters on the offensive line – at least during training camp. With last year's starting guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell retired and on PUP, respectively, the rookies were given a lot of reps next to starters Bryan Stork and Nate Solder (with Marcus Cannon taking the majority of reps at right tackle in place of the rehabbing Sebastian Vollmer). They looked solid, while displaying physicality in one-on-one battles. Through the first four sessions, Jackson seems to be on the road to earn the starting role at right guard, while Mason might give Wendell a run for his money.
Stork's 2015 role is clear: he will be the team's starting center. However, what was not clear prior to training camp was how he would respond to the changes along the offensive line. During the first camp days, it seems as if those changes do not effect him at all. Bookended by two rookies, the sophomore center had a very good camp. A physical and impressively tough match-up for defenders during both one-on-ones and team drills, Stork seems to be in the midst of making the famed second-year jump.
Signed on the eve of training camp, Brown has faced an uphill battle since day one. However, it does not look this way. The 30-year old stood out at various times during training camp, registering multiple pass break-ups. He has also gotten some work as a punt returner, even though Brown never returned a kick in his NFL career. Judging by the training camp he has had thus far as well as the contract he received, it would not come as a surprise to see Brown on the Patriots' opening day roster.
The free agent tight end seems to fit in nicely with New England's offense. After getting quality reps during OTAs and minicamp, Chandler once again sees a lot of work during training camp, catching 12 Tom Brady passes during the first four sessions, the third most on the team after Julian Edelman's 15 and Danny Amendola's 13. He has been a tough match-up for safeties and linebackers while showing some fluid route running and an impressive catch radius. Right now, Chandler can be considered a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Wendell was a starter on the Super Bowl winning offensive line last year but might find himself on the bench come the regular season. Due to the fact that he spent the first four practices on the PUP list, rookies Shaq Mason and Tre' Jackson have seen lots of work among the first string offensive line (aka Stork & Sons aka the Mason-Jackson-Line). Given his experience, Wendell should still be considered a favorite to win one of the starting spots but if he continues to spend more time on the sidelines, he might very well get surpassed by the younger and cheaper players, who both have had a good camp thus far.
Another inactive player, who might find himself on the outside looking in come roster cuts. Branch has missed all of training camp so far after failing his conditioning test and subsequently being placed on the Non-Football Injury list (NFI). With him on the sidelines, Sealver Siliga, Zach Moore and rookie Malcom Brown have seen a lot of repetitions in the middle of the defensive line. If Branch cannot get back on the field soon, he might find himself out of a job in September.
The Patriots' offensive depth chart is loaded at the top and in order to get one of the few remaining spots on the roster, one needs to separate himself from the rest of the pack. Tyms has not been able to do that because he had a hard time even separating himself from the defensive backs. With fellow wideout Aaron Dobson having an impressive camp so far, Tyms needs to improve quickly in order to have a chance of making the team.
Last year, Josh Kline has been the team's top backup option along the interior offensive line. With Connolly retired and Wendell on PUP, he looked like the leading candidate to earn a spot in the starting lineup. However, it was the rookies who did that and thus Kline was relegated to the second unit. Things can obviously change the next few weeks but the 25-year old needs to step up and show that he is worthy of first-team reps and a spot on the roster.