Patriots Comprehensive Training Camp Preview

Position Battles to Watch 

Running Back – The Patriots Running Back depth chart has a lot of unanswered questions entering training camp. The departures of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen weren’t unexpected. From the moment Ridley went down in Buffalo it looked like his time here was finished (especially once LeGarrette Blount was brought back) and once Shane Vereen’s price tag got leaked, everyone knew he was gone. This is nothing new to Bill Belichick. Over the last 15 years he’s replaced Running Back after Running Back and has done so without much drop off in production. LeGarrette Blount will be the “starter” beginning in Week 2, but the depth chart behind him is completely unsettled.

Jonas Gray burst onto the scene in Indianapolis, but quickly wound up in the doghouse after showing up late to practice and barely saw the field again. Can Gray re-establish himself as the #2 powerback behind Blount?

James White has been earmarked to take over for Shane Vereen ever since he was selected in the 4th Round of last year’s draft. The pass-catching back plays a vital role within the Patriots offense and James White will be given every opportunity to win that job. White must show he can not only get open and catch the ball, but that he can also handle his responsibilities as a pass protector.

Travaris Cadet managed to catch 38 passes last season in New Orleans and offers a lot of versatility as a pass-catcher. Unlike Vereen he lacks the “big play quality” due to his average speed. Cadet offers very little as a ball-carrier, as he’s only received 11 carries over the course of his career. If James White stumbles, Cadet will be next in line to win the job. One of these two guys needs to step up to replicate most of Vereen’s production. If that fails to happen the Patriots offense will be lacking a key component at the beginning of the season.

Tyler Gaffney is a complete wildcard. Claimed off waivers from the Panthers, he spent the entire season on injured reserves. In college Gaffney was a powerful, pro-style runner that thrived in Stanford’s power scheme. He’s a lot more athletic than given credit for and it will not surprise me if he beats out Jonas Gray.

Brandon Bolden will be on the roster because he’s developed into one of the best special teams players on the team. While he’ll be given a handful of carries here and there, he’s yet to show anything to signal he’s ready to play a larger role on offense.

Finally, Dion Lewis enters camp after missing the last two seasons. He’ll compete for a reserve role and could emerge as a contender for the pass catching duties. He has some big fans within the front office, but no one knows for sure what to expect from him. The Patriots usually keep four running backs on the roster, so if we assume LeGarrette Blount is a lock these six players are fighting for three roster spots. It will be fascinating to watch!

Cornerback – All eyes will be on Cornerback position this Summer. After declining Darrelle Revis’ monster option the Patriots decided to then cut Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington. Naturally Patriots fans freaked out, as if they forgot how much they cursed Kyle Arrington every time he made a mistake or swore at their TV about how “undisciplined” Brandon Browner was in coverage last year. There is no replacing Revis so instead of trying to replicate his production the Patriots chose to invest their resources on the front seven and fill the CB depth chart with a mix of experienced veterans and young players. As training camp approaches the CB depth chart as wide open and as fluid as ever.

Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan will be on the football team. The Patriots are counting on both players to take the next step in their development. Both have shown exciting flashes, but the Patriots really need consistent production out of both players. Neither player is especially fast, but both have decent ball skills and have shown they have the mental capacity to play in a Bill Belichick scheme.

The Patriots signed a trio of veterans to provide depth, competition, and experience at the position. None of the guys come close to the level of a Darelle Revis and none play the physical brand of coverage that Browner showed last season. However, the combination of these players should be able to replicate Arrington and Browner’s production from a pure coverage stand point. Bradley Fletcher is coming off a poor season, which was only magnified by his play on the big stage vs. guys like Dez Bryant. The Patriots are hoping the get the Bradley Fletcher of 2012-2013 when he was a solid and reliable defender.

Robert McClain is an experienced slot corner who played in 63 games over the past four seasons. Tarell Brown was signed last week after a long romancing period between the player and team. The Patriots showed interest in Brown when free agency opened back in March and had him up to Foxboro for a visit. Brown was recovering from a foot injury that shut him down last season, so the Patriots had to wait for him to fully heal. They had him back to the facility in May to check on his recovery and now that Brown is fully healthy the Patriots inked him to a one year contract. Brown was a three year starter in the 49ers heralded secondary between 2011-2013. He started in the Super Bowl against the Ravens and is a battle tested in big situations.

Daryl Roberts will be looking to pry a roster spot away from one of these veterans and based on the way he looked in mini-camp he has a good shot. The depth chart is rounded out by the likes of Derek Cox, Jimmy Jean, Justin Green, and Dax Swanson. The Patriots will be playing a lot more zone coverage in 2015, but they will always be a game plan specific defense. There are a lot of questions at this position that need to be sorted out this summer. If Butler and Ryan take the next step the Patriots will be able to piece things together capably.

4th Receiver – The top of the Wide Receiver depth chart is set: Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Danny Amendola. Those three along with Tight Ends Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler will handle the vast majority of the targets from Tom Brady, but it’d certainly be helpful if another receiver emerges from the pack this summer to provide another legitimate option. Here’s how the competition is shaping up:

It’s make or break time for Aaron Dobson. Dobson put together an impressive rookie season by Patriots WR standards and then hurt his foot, essentially wiping out his entire 2014 season. He deserves a break for last season because foot injuries are a death knell for Wide Receivers. But, he’s about 16 months removed from surgery and there are no more excuses. He should show up to camp in the best shape of his life and ready to win the job. He’s easily the most talented WR of this group, but I have questions about just how hard he wants it.

Brandon Gibson is perhaps the biggest sleeper on the entire roster entering camp. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are huge fans of the former Dolphins receiver. Josh McDaniels coached him during his time and St. Louis and has raved about him to Bill Belichick for awhile now. When Gibson was a free agent back in 2013 the Patriots showed significant interest, but didn’t match the type of offer from the Dolphins. When he was cut by Miami back in March the Patriots immediately pounced by signing him to a one year deal. If fully healthy and recovered from his knee injury suffered two years ago, I really like his chances to make the roster. The problem is he didn’t look like the same receiver last season after surgery. He’d lost his explosiveness and precision.

Bryan Tyms erupted onto the scene last season, but quickly faded and became an afterthought. Tyms had a rough OTA by all accounts and really needs to prove during the summer that he’s more than a one trick pony.

Josh Boyce will get one more chance to prove himself. If he fails to impress, he won’t make it to September. Chris Harper and Zach D’Orazio are two undrafted free agents vying for a roster spot and both are highly unlikely to break through. Jonathan Krause is also on the roster, but he’s not a serious contender to make the team. As of right now it appears to be a three-horse race between Dobson, Gibson, and Tyms, but this is definitely one position where I could envision the Patriots adding another veteran to the mix.

Offensive Guard – Ryan Wendell vs. Tre’ Jackson vs. Shaq Mason vs. Josh Kline for two starting spots. Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming could be in the plans if the coaches are committed to a position switch. Overall the depth looks much better than it did last September.

Reserve Linebacker – There are a lot of special teams linebackers on the roster with the likes of  Matt Wells, Chris White and Jonathan Freeny, but there aren’t many that can contribute to the base defense (on paper). The team spent a lot of time looking at Linebackers in the off-season (Colin McCarthy, Rolando McClain, Brandon Spikes) but nothing has worked out thus far. They brought back Dane Fletcher who has experience in the system and should help at times. The name to watch here is James Morris. He’s a second year player out of Iowa who opened eyes in camp last season. He got “hurt” in the final pre-season game and spent the season on Injured Reserve. Morris and Fletcher will be battling with the likes of Darius Fleming and Eric Martin for playing time. This is another position they’ll likely address further during camp/cut-downs.

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20 Responses to “Patriots Comprehensive Training Camp Preview”

  1. J H TARBORO says:

    I’m hoping for the best for UDFA TE Jimmay Mundine, he could be a difference maker, a move TE with good speed and wiggle.

  2. J H TARBORO says:

    I believe the LBs/DEs battles in camp will be epic also, these guys will be a major part of our new look team.

  3. Ryan says:

    The cornerback battle in camp should be tons of fun to watch. For youth, we’ve got Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler fighting for starting spots, followed by Darryl Roberts, Justin Green and Dax Swanson all trying to make the team. Then for experience, we have Bradley Fletcher trying to bounce back from an off year, Robert McClain trying to become a legitimate slot corner, and Tarell Brown and Derek Cox trying to turn back the clock to 2012, when they weren’t injured and were playing quite well. To me, any combination of these players could end up making the team so long as either Ryan or McClain is included, meaning that we have tons of possible 5-6 man roster situations. I can’t wait to see who impresses us.

    • Daniel R. Martin says:

      Is it just pessimism that makes that picture of the secondary seem absolutely abysmal?

      • GM-in-Training says:

        Pessimism is part of it. Experience (remembering the secondary from a few years ago) is also part of it. The Pats used to have a problem getting off the field on 3rd downs. They hadn’t drafted well at CB, and kind of cheaped out on free agents back then. They didn’t have a shutdown corner until Talib showed up by trade, and we really noticed when Talib wasn’t on the field.

        To me, this feels a little different. I think Logan Ryan and Malcom Butler are pretty solid. The Pats parted ways with Arrington because even though he was quick, he got crushed by a tall slot receiver in the super bowl. Arrington was also fairly expensive for what he was. The Pats got rid of Alfonzo Dennard, I guess because injuries and off-field issues made him seem unreliable. Maybe there were hidden problems with those otherwise capable players. OR…maybe the Pats were confident they could put together a better squad without them. I don’t know what the Pats are paying Tarrel Brown, but I’m pretty sure a couple of the more expensive veterans won’t make it to the end of camp. I think the Pats’ strategy is get a handful of veteran CB who were good in 2013 but had a down 2014 so they’re affordable, and keep the ones that can return to form. I also think the Pats will add another veteran CB via waiver or trade by late September.

        The unit we get after all of that should be deep and capable, although it’s not likely to have a shutdown corner or a really strong press corner. Combined with a strong pass rush rotation, it might still lead to 12 wins, but I’m less clear on if it can win the biggest games.

      • Ryan says:

        Absolutely abysmal? Definitely pessimistic.

        Still, it’s not good at all. There’s no potential number 1 unless someone really steps up, but it’s safe to say that number 2s and 3s should be available. With McCourty anchoring the back, it shouldn’t be terrible, but it’ll require the front seven to make strides. Not much good yet, but there are options.

  4. Daniel R. Martin says:

    So, Easely is listed on PUP list currently. Hopefully it is just a precautionary measure. Otherwise, we’ll be missing two first round picks in three years. The impact of that might not be felt for a couple of seasons.

    If Brady’s suspension is upheld he can take the matter to court and play through the proceedings as the matter is adjudicated. That would be great. I don’t know why Goodell is taking so long to issue a ruling. I can’t help but to feel as though that doesn’t bode particularly well.

    • Oppitz says:

      I dont know how much precautionary it could be since he didn’t even need surgery. So the guy is 8 months “resting” his knees and still not feeling right? Not looking good.

      • Daniel R. Martin says:

        I agree. And now Brady’s suspension has been upheld.

      • GM-in-Training says:

        Not sure what to make of Easley. Cautious makes sense. “Football Shape” is a thing. He didn’t make it through last year, so caution makes sense.

        • Daniel R. Martin says:

          Well, as much as I personally think many of us were right to bemoan the Easely selection, we were also obviously wrong about the import of drafting Garappolo. He may well be what salvages a lost season in the twilight of Brady’s career. If Brady can’t put off suspension via lawsuit, could Garoppool go at least 2-2?

  5. I really think those guys are gonna do it for us! Really looking forward to the new season.

  6. Oppitz says:

    I think at least one of those three (Alan Branch, Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones) will not make the roster, right know I’m betting on Alan Branch being the odd man out, but Jones is close.

  7. What’s up mates, fastidious piece of writing and pleasant arguments commented
    at this place, I am actually enjoying by these.

  8. howie horvath says:

    I have a special feeling about what’s happening on the defensive side of the ball. If health isn’t an issue, I think we’ll be at the very top of the rankings by year’s end – even with a weaker secondary (though I believe Malcom Butler will continue to surprise and the new CB Roberts, from Marshall, will contribute right away).

    Think about all the incredibly talented pieces we have in the front 7 if they stay healthy and develop as expected. This and last year’s 1st rounders offer the Pats something that we’ve not had since the days of Richard Seymour…and inside rush. When coupled with a young space-eating Siliga and the veteran Branch the team also looks ready to stop the run, always task #1 in the NFL.

    The bevy of talented young DE/OLB drafted by the Pats coupled with a 2nd year Z. Moore means we have some depth to keep that entire group fresh this season. The now veteran and proven more traditional LB’s could be the best in the league. With this new defensive depth we’re likely to see more frequent blitzes which I think will be near impossible to stop. Dont’a Hightower has only just begun to show his immense ability and true value and Collins has, in my mind, the potential to be the very best NFLer at his position(s) (even though M. Lynch was able to shake him for a critical out and up in the 4th quarter of the SB, Collins was able to recover to catch him). And taking a best case, glass half full view of Mayo, we know what he can do when healthy and he’s certainly well rested;) And just think of the value and improved impact of a better rested Chandler Jones and Ninkovich in 2015. I’m especially excited to think we have a few more LBs that can cover starting with Collins, Mayo, and possibly rookies Wells and Grissom. That’s a necessity in this era’s version of high powered NFL passing offenses.

    And as we all know the Pats have two of the finest, if not finest, defensive minds in Patricia and Belichick now working with more “chess pieces” then they’ve had in a long while. We saw what they did with the addition of Revis and Browner last year.

    Finally, the Pats have this guy named Brady, who’s teamed with Gronk, Edelman, and Coach Daniels on the other side of the ball. He’s got to be “loaded for bear” based on all that’s happened of late. And there is nothing like a determined #12 to insure the other team is playing from behind a good portion of the time which of course, will play very nicely into the new strengths of this re-born Patriots D.

    I for one, can’t wait!!

  9. Nick says:

    Awesome write-up. Thanks. James White ceiling, 90% of Vereen?

  10. Russell says:

    Very well done report, sounds solid. RB-Gaffney and DE Flowers are my big surprise players this year.
    2016 the Patriots will most likely have 3 QB’s on the roster, (drafting a guy 4th-5th round) which will mean one less roster spot next year.
    As far as trades go, Vollmer sounds interesting, but my thought is Chandler Jones, for a 3d and 4th K.C. , Minn., or San Deigo.

    • John says:

      I think Jones does have a chance to be traded, eventually, but not right now. The way the defense is constructed, it would be too large of a loss. They brought in Shead to lessen the snap-load, not just maintain it between two ends/rushers. Besides, the depth beyond Jones, Nink, Jones, is too much unknown. There would be way too much uncertainty between secondary and line.

      That being said, they do have a shot at being special. They are also an injury away from not getting going.

      Love Vollmer, but I could see Cannon/Fleming eventually being suitable to start at RT. Would like to see Solder become more confident/leader/anchor before that happens, though.

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