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NFL Sunday Thoughts: Early training camp impressions

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots will start their 4th training camp practice later today. There hasn't been a lot of contact in these practices, but the team looks dialed in already. With very few roster spots truly available and a lot of quality players, there is going to be intense competition over the next few weeks.

  1. New acquisitions Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore, and Mike Gillislee have looked good so far.

The Patriots spent a lot of capital on these three players in both money and draft pick assets. All three players were ideal scheme fits for Cooks' speed and route running abilities, Gilmore's length and prowess in press coverage, and Gillislee's downhill and powerful running style. I've already seen six different 1 on 1 matchups between Cooks and Gilmore and the matchup has been amazingly even. Gillislee finally got his chance ti shine yesterday with the pads on and crushed the goal line drill.

2. Rob Ninkovich's retirement leaves a huge void in leadership

Expected to take a major lead in leading the young players in the edge group, Ninkovich's retirement comes at a very interesting time. Many speculated that this would be tge case when he didn't report for the first three days of practice. With him retiring, the most veteran defender of this group is now Trey Flowers. Flowers was already primed for a big role after excelling in the 2nd half and tbe Super Bowl, now his importance becomes greater with Nink hanging up the cleats. That also opens up an opportunity for Geneo Grissom and Kony Ealy to take the starting left end job.

3. Kenny Moore is this year's UDFA that catches everyone's attention

From the first practice, Kenny Moore has turned heads. He has intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo twice and broken up 4 passes in 3 practices. His career path is eerily reminiscent of Malcolm Butler's. 3 years ago Butler came as an UDFA from a Division II program and we know the rest of that story. Like Butler, Moore comes from a Division II school in Valdosta State. I won't say for sure he'll make the roster with only 1 spot open at the position, but if he keeps it up he's going to force the coaching staff to make a tough decision.

4. Does Jordan Richards finally put it together?

Richards has also had a strong start to camp, with arguably his best performance coming yesterday. He is not only the first player to intercept Brady, but was also able to hokd hid own in single coverage against Rob Gronkowski. Richards has a lot to prove this year after contributing nothing in his first 2 years on the team. Patriots dont have depth at the safety position, but Richards can help that problem.

5. Players with the most to prove

Richards is one of many players with a lot to prove if they want to stick in the NFL. 2016 2nd round pick Cyrus Jones had a forgettable rookie season returning kicks and with the good health at the CB position was a healthy scratch at the end. Of the players competing for a job, he's the most talented of the bunch and has the best roster utility if he can return punts. Geneo Grissom also has an opportunity with Nink retiring, as he's gotten the most first team reps at left end.