We are just a few hours away from the first practice of this year’s New England Patriots training camp. Yesterday the team’s veteran players arrived at Gillette Stadium to go through physicals and the conditioning test, and — with one exception — to be cleared for work. And once this work commences today, some of them will have a lot to prove at this point in their respective careers; for different reasons and under different circumstances.
Here, we take a look at the five veterans who by this modest estimation may have the most to prove over the course of this summer.
OT Isaiah Wynn
What he has to prove: That he is ready to protect Tom Brady’s blindside
Yes, Wynn already reported to training camp with the first group of players. And yes, by all practical purposes he is more rookie than veteran. He is still entering his second season in the NFL, though, and doing so with plenty of expectations. After all, Wynn is expected to fill the vacant left tackle spot previously held by free agency departure Trent Brown. Given his talent and status as a former first-round draft selection, Wynn should be able to pick up where Brown left off.
That being said, the 23-year-old is coming off a year missed almost in its entirety due to a torn Achilles tendon. Physically, Wynn is ready to contribute after being medically cleared to participate in camp. Now, he needs to prove that he is ready for the challenge that is protecting Tom Brady’s blindside.
DE Derek Rivers
What he has to prove: That he can finally live up to the promise he showed early during his rookie year
New England drafted just four players in 2017 and Rivers was the first of them, getting picked in the third round. His NFL career got off to a good start as he looked promising during minicamp and the first few training camp sessions, but a torn ACL in mid-August cost him essentially his entire rookie season. He returned to action last season, but was on the field for just 97 snaps over seven combined regular season and playoff games.
Entering year three, Rivers finally needs to prove his value and carve out a consistent role in New England’s defensive edge rotation. If he fails to live up to the promise he showed early during his rookie year, the 2019 training camp might be his last with the Patriots.
WR Phillip Dorsett
What he has to prove: That he can earn a consistent role in the Patriots’ offense
The Patriots’ wide receiver position underwent some major changes in 2018 with Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks leaving during the offseason, Julian Edelman starting the year suspended and Josh Gordon on and off the squad. Dorsett was one of the few constants, but he nevertheless was unable to elevate himself beyond the number three role — even with number two Chris Hogan struggling to produce on a consistent basis.
With Hogan now gone and Edelman on the non-football injury list (thumb), Dorsett is now the wide receiver group’s elder statesman. He needs to take advantage: with the Patriots investing considerable resources in the position this offseason, the former first-round draft pick has to show that he can earn a consistent role in the offense as a Z/X hybrid receiver. If he fails to do that, don’t be surprised to see New England turn to its other option and leave Dorsett behind.
P Ryan Allen
What he has to prove: That he is still the right guy for the job
Last year, the Patriots signed undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez to bring competition into the punter room for the first time since Allen won the job in 2013. The incumbent prevailed during training camp and went on to have a solid but unspectacular season before an outstanding performance in the Super Bowl. Despite that, however, New England again brought in another punter during the offseason: the team picked Jake Bailey in the fifth round of the draft.
With Bailey breathing down Allen’s neck, the veteran needs to prove that he is still the right guy for the job. How can he do that? By being the more consistent and thus reliable situational punter — something he already was during mandatory minicamp, even though Bailey’s leg talent is superior to his own.
LB Jamie Collins Sr.
What he has to prove: That he can still play at a high level
After 2.5 seasons, the Cleveland Browns decided to pull the plug on Collins’ tenure this offseason. He remained unsigned for more than two months after his release, until the Patriots picked him up on a comparatively modest one-year, $3.0 million deal — one that does not guarantee him a spot on the team’s deep linebacker group, though. Collins first needs to prove that he can still play at a sufficiently enough level.
In order to do that, he has to build on what was an impressive spring performance: the 29-year-old looked as if he had not skipped a beat, and was used in multiple spots to take advantage of his unique athletic skillset. If he can continue stringing solid outings together, Collins could play a considerable role on New England’s defense this season.