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10 things we learned from the Patriots’ offseason workouts

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With OTAs and minicamp both over, let’s clean out the notebook.

NFL: New England Patriots-Minicamp Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

With head coach Bill Belichick deciding to cancel the New England Patriots’ final two organized team activities this week, his club is ‘on to vacation’: the reigning world champions will be off until the start of training camp in late July. This, in turn, gives us a chance to take a step back and look at what we learned about the Patriots during their four practice sessions open to members of the media.

Tom Brady doesn’t need voluntary workouts

For the second year in a row, Tom Brady decided to sit out voluntary practices — and for the second year in a row it seems as if he has not skipped a beat because of it. As was expected, Brady looked like his usual dominant self during mandatory minicamp and re-entered the operation without showing any rust or needing any time to adjust. The three practices last week looked like the future Hall of Famer had been in Foxboro all offseason long.

Even without Sony Michel, the running back position is deep

Sony Michel missed all four open workout sessions this spring, but the running back position still stood out as one of the deepest on the roster. Third-round rookie Damien Harris saw plenty of action, James White was his usual reliable self as a pass catcher out of the backfield, and Rex Burkhead saw plenty of looks in two-back packages. The trio and Michel — whenever he returns — is expected to see plenty of action this year and with the traditional pass catching group in a phase of turnover.

New England’s offseason additions appear to fit in nicely...

They may have lost some considerable talent since the Super Bowl, but the Patriots did their best to fill the voids on the roster. So far, it looks as if a considerable part of the offseason acquisitions is fitting in nicely. It is not hard to see, for example, why the club liked wide receiver N’Keal Harry in the first round of the draft. Or why it thought players like tight ends Benjamin Watson and Matt LaCosse, wideout Maurice Harris, and front seven defenders Mike Pennel and Jamie Collins Sr. were worth investing in as free agency.

...and so do the Patriots’ new assistant coaches

One of the most noteworthy sights of the Patriots’ minicamp might have been Jerod Mayo calling the plays for the second-string defense. While this could have been little more than a rotational approach this offseason, it does reflect the trust Bill Belichick has in his first-year assistant — especially considering that no other defensive coach did the same during minicamp. The new inside linebackers coach is not the only member of the staff to catch the eye: new wide receivers coach Joe Judge, for example, appears to be seamlessly transitioning behind this role and his second as special teams coordinator.

Matt LaCosse is on his way to become TE1

As mentioned above, tight end Matt LaCosse has looked good during practice so far this offseason. In fact, the 26-year-old appears to be on his way to lock down the number one spot on the depth chart — the one held by Rob Gronkowski for the last nine years — with Benjamin Watson suspended for the first four games of the season. While LaCosse will not be the new Gronk for obvious reasons, he looked ready to contribute as a pass catcher in the Patriots’ system. In training camp, he now has to show that his blocking also looks the part.

The offensive line remains a work in progress...

New England’s offensive line was outstanding during the 2018 playoffs, but lost starting left tackle Trent Brown in free agency. And while last year’s first-round draft choice Isaiah Wynn is the frontrunner to fill the void, he has yet to practice in team situations. Instead, the Patriots used Joe Thuney at left tackle instead of his traditional spot at left guard. Once Wynn returns, Thuney should move to the interior again — but so far and with the nominal starter still rehabbing after missing his entire rookie season due to an Achilles injury, the left side of the line remains a work in progress.

...but it should be fine one way or the other

Even if Wynn is unable to compete in full capacity once training camp opens, New England should be fine. After all, Joe Thuney has proven himself a capable blocker in the NFL — and he has experience playing on the edge of the offensive line as well. And even the left guard spot he vacates should such a move temporarily happen, the Patriots’ quality at guard has been evident: Ted Karras and Brian Schwenke are seasoned interior lineman, with rookie Hjalte Froholdt providing high-upside depth.

The Patriots’ linebacker group looked really strong...

Due to the non-contact nature of offseason workouts it is hard to properly evaluate linebacker play beyond coverage and situational rushing responsibilities. As things stand right now, however, the group projects to be a fun one to watch in 2019: Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are the undisputed top two, with Ja’Whaun Bentley and the aforementioned Jamie Collins providing quality depth behind them during open practices over the last two weeks. The question will be whether or not a player like Elandon Roberts can carve out a role — or if he turns into a potential trade chip.

...and even more so did the cornerbacks

An argument can be made that no cornerback corps in the NFL is as deep as the Patriots’. Led by All-Pro Stephon Gilmore, who was outstanding during minicamp, the group consists of an intriguing mix of established talent and high-upside youth. Jason McCourty appears to be locked in into a starting role yet again, with J.C. Jackson challenging his standing as the number two. Meanwhile, Jonathan Jones and Duke Dawson Jr. will compete for the top slot role. Add in second-round rookie Joejuan Williams and you have a highly talented group of players that looked the part during offseason workouts.

The punter competition will be intense

Given how rosters are constructed in the NFL, you rarely see two players going mano-a-mano for the same spot. New England will see such a battle this summer when incumbent punter Ryan Allen will try to defend his job against fifth-round rookie challenger Jake Bailey. So far, Bailey appears to have the upper hand given his raw but undeniable talent. That being said, Allen will get plenty of chances to prove that he still is the best and most consistent option for this team. Needless to say that the competition will be fun to watch.