With the Coronavirus pandemic still dictating life in the United States, the New England Patriots’ offseason preparation continues to take place in a virtual setting. It remains to be seen when the team actually will return to its Gillette Stadium facilities to start on-field preparations for the 2020 season, but for the time being we only know this: organized team activities cannot take place in their normal form, with mandatory minicamp also likely falling victim to current safety regulations.
But what if that were not the case? What if OTAs and minicamp actually took place? In that case, we would probably discuss the following talking points ahead of the practice session open to the media.
Who takes the top quarterback reps?
With Tom Brady now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots will have to fill the biggest hole imaginable. A look at the current roster shows that the team has four quarterbacks under contract — Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, J’Mar Smith, Brian Lewerke — with the first two of them as realistic candidates to start. Stidham is the favorite to earn the QB1 job when all is said and done, but the first open offseason practices would still have given insight into his development and how the team views him relative to what Hoyer offers.
Who is in attendance?
The Patriots usually have tremendous attendance during their voluntary offseason workouts, and organized team activities are not an exception. That said, not every one of the current 89 players under contract would be expected to be present for the sessions this year. The most realistic candidates to miss OTAs had they taken place are all currently rehabbing from offseason surgery or other medical procedures related to injuries suffered last season: wide receivers Julian Edelman (knee/shoulder) and Mohamed Sanu (ankle), linebacker Chase Winovich (hernia), and cornerback Justin Bethel (shoulder).
How do the players coming off injured reserve look?
New England will get some considerable talent back from injury-related reserve lists this year — a group that includes starting center David Andrews (blood clots), special teams ace Brandon King (quad), and projected third offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (quad). OTAs and minicamp in particular would give us a first look at their rehabilitation status, and how the team views them in relation to the other talent currently on the roster.
Who is the first man up at tight end?
The Patriots’ tight ends struggled in 2019, and forced the team to invest two third-round draft picks at the position. While Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are locks to make the roster, the question will be where they find themselves on the depth chart compared to returning veterans Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. The two youngsters should be able to carve out prominent roles rather early in their respective careers, so it would have been interesting to see how LaCosse and Izzo respond to the challenge.
How do the position battles develop?
The tight end spot will not be the only one to have a fierce competition brewing: wide receiver, interior offensive line, the entire defensive line, linebacker, and safety also have multiple players eying for a limited number of roster spots. While the battles will not be decided in May and June, players can very well put themselves in a good position to eventually make a run at one of the spots on the 53-man squad over the summer.
Are there any early signs of second-year jumps?
From 2019 rookies such as N’Keal Harry and Chase Winovich, to free agency signings like LaCosse and Terrence Brooks, to trade acquisitions Mohamed Sanu, Jermaine Eluemunor and Korey Cunningham, New England has plenty of players on its roster entering their second year in the system. Year Two is typically when a player takes a significant step in his development and it would have been interesting to see if there are some early signs of that visible during OTAs — be it in terms of usage, build, or general demeanor on the practice field.
How do the Patriots’ offseason additions look like?
New England invested considerable resources this offseason to maintain the quality of its roster despite some high-profile departures. OTAs would have given us a first chance to watch the newly added talent in action — and draw some first (but likely premature) conclusions. The spotlight along the way would have been on players projected to play prominent roles in 2020: draft choices such as Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche and Justin Rohrwasser, as well as free agency signings like Danny Vitale, Beau Allen and Adrian Phillips.