January 3rd was the last time we saw the New England Patriots play football. Since that day we’ve experienced an uncharacteristically aggressive 205-day stretch of offseason that saw Bill Belichick dole out big money contracts, wheel and deal on the trade market, and draft a first round quarterback for the very first time. A far cry from what we’ve all become accustomed to.
Belichick manufactured a complete roster overhaul that injected talent and depth into what was an uncompetitive football team in 2020. Tomorrow we see his moves come together for the very first time as the 62nd training camp in franchise history opens up in Foxboro, and with it comes the potential identification of this season’s breakout star.
Every training camp has one, whether it be an undrafted free agent like Malcolm Butler, a second year player like Trey Flowers, or a veteran offseason addition like Dion Lewis, someone always finds a way to stand out during training camp and take an important step in their career. It’s just a matter of finding out who it could be, and that’s exactly what we’ll do.
LB Josh Uche
It would have been hard NOT to start with the man that beat reporters were gushing over during minicamp. Reports on Uche’s speed, expanded role within the defense, and dominance during team drills were significant enough to necessitate attention from the national media. No small feat in a minicamp that also featured the beginning to Newton and Jones’ QB competition.
Though a pair of IR stints bookended Uche’s rookie campaign, PFF’s second highest rookie pass rush grade pushed him through what ended up being an extremely promising rookie season. Uche has the opportunity to enter training camp fully healthy for the first time in about a year.
His talent is and has always been evident, it’s just a matter of staying on the field now for Uche. If he can, there’s no doubt that he will be one of the shining stars at training camp.
DB Myles Bryant
Myles Bryant’s ascent to becoming a defensive contributor was extremely impressive. Perhaps more so than any undrafted free agent we’ve seen in recent years.
The 2020 offseason was marred by restrictions due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. It’s no secret that rookies and first year players struggled in while transitioning to their new team, Bryant being no different. In addition to starting behind most other players, Bryant was tasked with trying to crack one of the top positional groups in the NFL. He did, and was an extremely effective player when he got his opportunities. Now the question becomes whether or not Bryant can build off of that rookie campaign, and how he possibly could do so. As is often the answer, he just needs an opportunity.
Bryant is a nickel cornerback who saw some reps at safety. The only other man to occupy a role like that in New England is Jon Jones; the underrated third piece to the league’s best cornerback trio. Entering year number six, Jones is established enough to earn a slow introduction into camp. That will open up time for Bryant to make his leap early on. Daily reps against slot receivers like Gunner Olszewski, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers will certainly give him the chance to show he can be a breakout candidate in training camp number two.
K Quinn Nordin
This is admittedly a stretch because absolutely no one cares about watching the kickers at training camp. Pair that with the fact that Nordin himself would need to be near perfect to unseat Nick Folk as the team’s kicker, this is the most unlikely candidate in this exercise. My only question is, what if?
What if Nordin supplants the consistent but aging veteran Nick Folk by improving his accuracy in the intermediate and showing off the incredible leg that got him his NFL contract? I’d say that’s enough to be considered a breakout.
DT Davon Godchaux
Our lone candidate from the Dion Lewis/Wes Welker school of “needing a change of scenery” comes in the form of 310lb defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. The fifth year man out of LSU had a serviceable if not unremarkable start to his career in Miami, where he racked up just 3.0 sacks in 52 games. So it may have come as a shock to some when the Patriots inked him to a two-year deal worth $8M per.
Well, they’ve got a plan. After spending the bulk of his early career as a 3-technique in Adam Gase/Brian Flores’ 4-3 defense, Godchaux will likely see more time as a true nose tackle while the Patriots cycle through different alignments in camp to see what best fits their personnel.
Not only will Godchaux’s individual success be based upon his camp performance, but the bulk of personnel groupings will be based on where he plays best. He is the man in the middle after all. After leading all interior defensive lineman in run stuffs in 2019, Godchaux found himself on the shelf just five weeks into 2020. Watching him make his return during team drills and joint practices with Philadelphia and New York should be a fun viewing experience for fans.
QB Mac Jones
Could it have been anyone else? Bill Belichick’s first round quarterback will be the talk of the town from now until his eventual first career start, and rightfully so.
The 2020 Davey O’Brien Award winner enters his first training camp with all of the opportunity in the world ahead of him. He will work behind a tremendous offensive line and gets to throw to a solid receiving corps that is composed of players known for helping their quarterbacks limit mistakes. The defense he’ll be facing off against every day isn’t half bad either.
With Jarret Stidham out of the equation early on, Jones will have chances to compete for the main job right away, and even if he doesn’t win it outright, there isn’t much doubt that he will emerge as the Patriots training camp star in 2021.