The first five days of the New England Patriots’ 2016 training camp are over and the players can finally enjoy a practice-free day. Therefore, we can now take a step back to take a look back at the first practice sessions. Who stood out? Whose roster spot is in peril? And who have been the surprises thus far?
Note: There are some players that do not need to be mentioned as winners; they consistently bring their A-game to practice and their roles on the roster are set in stone. Tom Brady has been as spectacular as always, Malcolm Butler nearly unbeatable in coverage and Rob Gronkowski... well, let’s just say the fun he’s having speaks for itself.
WR Aaron Dobson: The Patriots have one of their deepest wide receiver corps in recent memory. Consequently, depth players like Dobson need to perform to save their roster lives. So far, the 25-year old does just that. With Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on PUP, Dobson has stepped up big time and has arguably been the team’s most consistent wideout. If he can continue his stellar practice performances and finally translate them to the field, Dobson seems to have a realistic shot to make the team.
OG Joe Thuney: If the season started today, Thuney would probably be New England’s starting left guard. The rookie has seen plenty of first-team reps at the position and has looked good in both team drills and one-on-one sessions, winning with both power and technique at the point of attack. In fact, the argument could be made that the third rounder has been New England’s most consistent offensive lineman the last few practices.
WR Malcolm Mitchell: Another rookie acquisition, Mitchell did not stand out early in his first NFL training camp. However, after missing the team’s Saturday session, the 23-year old began to show why the Patriots invested a fourth-round pick in him. Mitchell has consistently been on the winning side of his one-on-one battles and also made plays during team segments. He has shown solid hands and visibly grows more confident within the offense with every practice rep.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Tasked with replacing Tom Brady early in the season, Garoppolo has seen more reps and first team action than in training camps past. So far, he has made the most out of his opportunities, showing improved accuracy, situational awareness and decision making. It is still early in camp and the third-year pro still has a lot of room for growth, but the early signs have definitely been encouraging.
FS Brock Vereen: Yesterday, Bill Belichick said that the Patriots’ safety position “might be the strongest position we have on our team, top to bottom.” Unfortunately, with roster spots at a premium, not all safeties will be able to make the final roster. Among those, who will likely be unable to earn a spot on a crowded secondary is Brock Vereen, who also lines up at cornerback. Vereen has had a really good training camp so far and is tied for the team-lead in both interceptions and pass breakups. But unless the injury bug bites, the 23-year old will likely fall victim to the numbers game.
TE Martellus Bennett: New England’s most prominent offseason acquisition is a lock to make the team but that does not guarantee that he will have a positive impact (hello, Chad Ochocinco). However, judging by his first five training camp practices in Foxboro, Bennett does his best to make sure he will. The big tight end has caught the third-most passes over the first five days and has looked comfortable playing within the Patriots’ complex offense. While not all was perfect – his chemistry with Tom Brady needs more time to develop, drops – Bennett has looked like a perfect complement to Rob Gronkowski thus far.
OT Marcus Cannon: Cannon has had a bad 2015 season and his 2016 training camp is not going any better. The 28-year old, who has seen a lot of first-team reps with starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer sidelined, has struggled particularly in one-on-one battles where he gets beaten by defenders who take advantage of his at-times sloppy technique and slow reactions. Despite his inconsistency, Cannon should still be considered the favorite to make the team as the number three tackle as of right now.
WR Nate Washington: The veteran free agent’s most memorable moment this training camp has been vomiting on the field on the first day. Washington has not returned to the field since that incident and with every day he spends on the sidelines, his competition for the final wide receiver spot(s?) continues to distance itself from the 32-year old.
OC Bryan Stork: Ever since entering the league, Stork’s major flaw has been his durability – and it is on display again this training camp. After seeing a lot of reps with the presumed top offensive line early in camp, Stork left the Patriots’ third practice with an undisclosed injury. He has not returned to the field since and had to watch fellow center David Andrews perform well in one-on-ones. If Stork keeps standing on the sidelines while Andrews keeps up his solid play, the 25-year old might have to say goodbye to his starting role.