After they had to cancel their organized team activities last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the New England Patriots will be back on the offseason practice fields beginning on Monday. The first of ten OTA sessions will be held today to kick off the third phase of voluntary offseason workouts.
While the majority of sessions will be closed to the media (and no full practice can be attended by those outside the organization to begin with), OTAs will still give coaches and other spectators alike a first feel for some decisive questions heading into the 2021 season.
Who takes the top quarterback reps?
First-round rookie Mac Jones will take over as the Patriots’ starting quarterback at one point, but the question is when. As far as OTA workouts are concerned, however, he will likely be the fourth man up: the team usually distributes snaps based on seniority, and the other three passers all have considerably more experience in the system than Jones.
In turn, Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer will all likely see more prominent snaps. However, the first open offseason practices might still give some insight into Jones’ development and how the team views him relative to what the other QBs offer.
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 91 players under contract might be present for the sessions this year: the NFLPA urged its players to stay away from voluntary sessions this year due to concerns over Covid-19.
While New England still had some strong attendance through the first two phases of workouts, seeing all players participate would still be a surprise.
How do the players coming off injury or opt-out look?
New England will get some considerable talent back this year, and OTAs present a first extended look at them. Players such as cornerback Stephon Gilmore (quad), offensive tackle tackle Isaiah Wynn (knee), running back Damien Harris (ankle), and linebacker Josh Uche (foot) all ended the 2020 season on injured reserve, but are expected back this year.
Meanwhile, four members of the Coronavirus opt-out list are also slated to return: linebacker Dont’a Hightower, running back Brandon Bolden, tight end Matt LaCosse, and fullback Danny Vitale. OTAs and minicamp in particular will give us a first look at how the team views their progress after a year on the sidelines.
How do the position battles develop?
New England’s roster has some fierce competitions brewing: the quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker, and defensive backfield positions all 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 2020 rookies like Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche and Michael Onwenu, to free agency signings such as Cam Newton, Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis, to trade acquisition Michael Jackson, New England has plenty of players on its roster entering their second years in the system. Year 2 is typically when a player takes a significant step in his development and it will be 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?
Even outside of spending the 15th overall pick in the draft on a quarterback, New England invested considerable resources this offseason to rebuild a roster that struggled last year. OTAs will given us a first chance to watch the newly added talent in action — and to draw some first (but likely premature) conclusions.
The spotlight will obviously be on Mac Jones, even though other players may eventually play more prominent roles on the team in 2020: draft choices such as Christian Barmore or Ronnie Perkins, as well as free agency signings like Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Davon Godchaux, Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, or Jalen Mills.