The New England Patriots’ coaching staff will have to make some tough decisions between now and the start of the regular season in mid-September. Not only will it have to name a starting quarterback — Cam Newton is the clear favorite to win that job at the moment — but also build a 53-man roster as well as a 16-player practice squad. All those decisions will be based on a player’s entire body of work, but the current period in training camp is still crucial for those fighting for spots.
As Patriots head coach Bill Belichick noted during his press conference on Wednesday, after all, his team has entered the player evaluation portion of this year’s camp.
“We’re in the dog days of training camp here, just grinding through it day by day,” said Belichick. “This is really what our team needs to build its consistency and mental and physical toughness. It’s just a lot of practice repetitions, and starting to put things together situationally. I think we’re at that stage where we have spent a lot of time on a lot of the basic things — the majority of our schemes are in — and now it’s really about developing the consistency that we need.
“That can only be done through a lot of practice repetitions and just seeing different things and executing plays at a high speed or close to high speed tempo so that we can carry that over into the game, ultimately. We just have to string a lot of these days together here in the next week-and-a-half. It’s one day at a time, but that’s where we’re at, and we’ll get a good chance going forward here to evaluate where everybody’s at and how they are doing relative to the competition at their position or the competition on the other side of the ball and the players that they’re competing against.”
Before hitting the practice fields again on Wednesday — for a session that, among other developments, saw the return of running back Sony Michel off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) — the team held eight sessions since the start of the full-pads phase last Monday; five of those took place with full gear on. The coaching staff is therefore now getting a clearer picture of the players and their potential roles on the field.
This rings especially true when it comes to the quarterbacks, as Belichick said.
“We’re getting to the point now with all our quarterbacks where there’s not a lot of new installation going in. It’s really a repetition of the things that they’ve been doing and now is really the time to evaluate how well they perform. They know what to do. They’ve seen different looks. They have worked with different receivers, tight ends, running backs, even the offensive line relative to cadences, and things like that,” he noted.
“I think everybody has a lot better feel than they did a week ago, week-and-a-half ago. We’re all getting to that point now where — at all of the positions — players know what to do. They know how to do it. They know who they’re working with .They know their teammates. We’ll see how the competition unfolds at every position.”
While some competitions like quarterback and right tackle appear to be trending in a clear direction even though Belichick obviously will not admit that publicly at this point in time, a large portion of roles and spots on the team is still up for grabs. Players are now therefore under pressure to seize them, and to show that they have been able to build a sound foundation over the first few days of camp that they can now take advantage of.
“We’re ready to move forward form an execution standpoint,” said Belichick. “Schematically, we’re far enough along here where we have plenty of football in to play a game and to play in everything but maybe a couple of the last-play-of-a-game-type situations. Other than that, we have a lot of play with. We just have to see how well we can perform and perform against a competitive situation on the other side of the ball.”