6. Marcus Cannon Kicking Inside? — Marcus Cannon’s positional whereabouts has garnered plenty of intrigue over this last year. Traditionally an offensive tackle, the 6’5”, 340-pound Texas Christian Horned Frog played a dozen snaps at offensive guard in 2012. And with Sebastian Vollmer manning the starting right tackle spot for years to come, that could be where he is best suited.
The former Patriots fifth-round pick has worked closely with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia at the guard spot this offseason. He’s got the build to be an effective interior blocker and he’s got the strength as well. If Cannon can find a niche behind left guard Logan Mankins and right guard Dan Connolly, it’s possible he could end up the swing guard of 2013, much like Donald Thomas in 2012.
7. Cautious Optimism with Ras-I Dowling — When the 33rd overall selection in the NFL draft logs just nine games and 10 tackles in two years, there’s reason for concern. That was the case with the rangy 6’1”, press-man cornerback Ras-I Dowling. His two seasons landed him on injured reserve with hip and quad injuries — both serious ones at that.
Then during the recent minicamp, Dowling received first-team reps on the outside. He reportedly looked sharp, too. Was this triumph just a flash in the pan? Dowling’s injury history has left his future very much in doubt. But if he can resurrect his once-flailing position on the depth chart, it will be because he is able to stay healthy. This year’s training camp is of paramount importance for the former Virginia Cavalier. He started two games as a rookie and hasn’t done so again since.
8. Back End of the Running Back Depth Chart — Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are etched in as starter and third-down back. But with the likes of young upstart Brandon Bolden, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers bowling pin LeGarrette Blount and Pro Bowl return man Leon Washington all in the mix, New England’s running back stable runs deep.
The lower half of the depth chart should play out in a tight camp battle. Bolden and Blount both rumble between the tackles and rely on downfield momentum, while Washington is more so draw-play receiver who’s primarily a special teams threat at this point in his career. There are not many carries to spare within this collection of rushers, so how many will remain in New England for the duration? The Patriots carried four tailbacks on the 53-man roster last season. Expect that to be the magic number once again in 2013.
9. Withholding Tim Tebow Speculation — Take everything with a grain of salt. I have done by best to do just that when it comes to the Patriots’ signing of the polarizing Tim Tebow. “It is what it is.” All we know is that Belichick brought in the former Denver Bronco and New York Jet for a purpose. Will he play in a regular season game? Will he even make the final roster? It’s hard to say. Although with the initial wave of Tebowmania already come and gone, and with his contract just a two-year, non-guaranteed pact, the move is looking like a fine one.
And in the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
10. Jamie Collins Represents a Hybrid Defensive Scheme — New England’s defensive front has fluctuated heavily over the last few seasons. In 2010, the Patriots ran a 3-4 base defense. Then in 2011, things shifted to a 4-3, and that continued through 2012. But the truth is, base defenses are becoming irrelevant due to the steady uptick in sub package personnel. Just by watching film from last season, it’s noticeable how many 4-3 Patriots alignments also included a 3-4 alignment within it. As one side of the defensive line two-gaps, the other one-gaps, and it’s the best of both worlds personnel-wise and it makes for more offensive adjustments.
This is where athletes like rookie second-round draft pick Jamie Collins come into the picture. An athletic freak with the leg burst and quickness to lunge across the line of scrimmage, Collins also brings coverage ability as a former safety. A 6’3”, 250-pound “Bandit” from Southern Mississippi, Collins is built to play outside linebacker in a 3-4. How the Patriots facilitate Collins — and players in a similar mold — will largely dictate the nucleus of defense in 2013. Watch out for a 4-3 scheme with 3-4 personnel, or vice versa.