After having their first off-day of this year's training camp on Monday, the New England Patriots will return to the practice fields later today (9:15 a.m. ET). Naturally, there are some questions entering the second week of action – but there should be some answers coming over the next few days.
Let's take a look:
Will injured players return to practice?
The Patriots have three players on reserve lists: Linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive tackle Alan Branch have been placed on the physically unable to perform list, while rookie offensive tackle Andrew Jelks was listed with a non football injury. All three can come off the respective lists at any time; will they do so this week? In the case of Hightower and Branch, it would not be a surprise to see it happen.
Furthermore, two players were absent during the last practice session; both of whom suffered injuries: Cody Hollister and Duron Harmon. The latter's injury is not expected to be serious, so he should be expected back in action – albeit possibly limited – soon. The same has to be said for wideouts Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell as well as safety Davis Jones all of whom worked on a separate field on Sunday.
How will the connection between Tom Brady and the offseason acquisitions develop?
Quarterback Tom Brady received some new toys to play with this offseason. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks has been on the receiving end of multiple of Brady's passes as the duo has already displayed some early chemistry. While not all has been perfect, a strong foundation has already been laid. Meanwhile, tight end Dwayne Allen has also looked better than he has during OTAs and minicamp.
Both – as well as running backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead – are projected to play key parts in New England's offensive attack in 2017 (and possibly beyond). Them acclimating quickly and developing a rapport with their quarterback has been a positive sight last week. This week, the group needs to build on that.
Will the young standouts continue to shine?
Some of the standout performances of this year's camp so far belong to unheralded youngsters. Undrafted rookie defensive back Kenny Moore II has recorded multiple interceptions and created a “Malcolm Butler vibe”. Wide receivers Austin Carr and Devin Lucien, in the meantime, have both looked comfortable in the offense and looked good when it comes to running routes and catching the ball.
Rookie defensive edge Deatrich Wise Jr. has had some intriguing one-on-one battles, as did guard Joe Thuney. And while only the latter two can be regarded as roster locks at this point in time, it speaks for the Patriots' current depth that some of the players closer to the depth chart's bottom than its top are among the most noteworthy performers so far.
How will the Patriots use their defensive edges?
With veteran Rob Ninkovich calling it a career on Sunday, New England is left with a hole on the left end of its defensive line. While Trey Flowers is locked in as the starter on the other side, the Patriots' coaching staff will likely continue to rotate players to fill Ninkovich's old spot. Kony Ealy is currently projected as the starter, while Geneo Grissom and Deatrich Wise Jr. have also seen plenty of reps with the first unit.
Rotating the three players – and possibly rookie Derek Rivers as well – appears to be a short-term solution to replacing Ninkovich. In the long haul, maybe one of the edge players on the roster is able to set himself apart and establish himself as the starter opposite Flowers.