Patriots Comprehensive Training Camp Preview

Malcolm Butler needs to follow up his Super Bowl performance with a strong 2015 Season.

Malcolm Butler needs to follow up his Super Bowl performance with a strong 2015 Season.

NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko

Patriots rookies officially reported to camp this week, which means it’s time to close the book on the exhilarating roller coaster that was the 2014 Season and focus on what lies ahead. To get readers ready for training camp I’ve crammed all the pre-requisite preview articles into one long piece. In here I breakdown topics such as “camp battles”, the most important players heading into the 2015 Season, what to expect from newcomers and rookies, and of course an early “roster projection”.

10 Most Important Patriots in 2015 (minus Tom Brady)

10. Nate Solder (LT) – For all the heat Solder took early in the season, he put everything together and went on to have a strong run in the playoffs. Solder is one of the most indispensable players on the roster and he’ll have to play like it early in the season with Brady missing games. The Patriots don’t have a true back-up at Left Tackle, so if he were to go down it’d likely effect multiple positions on the offensive line. He’s entering a contract season and has a chance to make himself stupid rich.

9. Chandler Jones (DE) – After walking away from Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the Patriots decided to bolster their front seven instead of trying to duplicate the production at cornerback. With the CB position weakened the ability to generate consistent pressure becomes even more critical and much of that falls on Chandler Jones. Jones first 3 seasons were very productive, but it’s going to be important for him to elevate his game to the next level. Jones needs to be a little more consistent with his pass rush and begin to develop some more refined pass rush maneuvers. The addition of Jabaal Sheard should really help, as it will allow both Jones and Ninkovich to rotate snaps more frequently.

8. Tre’ Jackson/Shaq Mason (OG) – While this is a little high, it’s important that one of these rookies steps up and wins the Offensive Guard position. The Patriots can not go into the season with any uncertainty on the offensive line, as they did last season. Last season Bryan Stork stepped right in and immediately added stability and continuity to the interior offensive line. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Stork got injured which left the Offensive Line in shambles to begin the season. As training camp begins at least one of the Guard positions is wide open. Whether it’s Jackson or Mason doesn’t matter, one of these guys needs to pull a “Stork” and win that job early.

7. Dont’a Hightower (LB) – Hightower was easily the most improved player on the entire team last season. Despite playing half the season with a torn labrum, he elevated his play to an All-Pro level and the Patriots need a similar performance in 2015. Hightower’s development took a huge step forward in 2014, as he turned himself into a more complete Linebacker and the leader of the defense. If Jerod Mayo returns to health it should free up some of the responsibilities on him to become an even more aggressive, attacking inside linebacker.

6. Malcom Brown/Dominique Easley (DT) – After spending two 1st Round picks on the Interior Defensive Line in consecutive years it’s imperative for the Patriots to get high level production out of their youngsters. Easley’s rookie season was akin to a redshirt and that wasn’t wholly unexpected entering the season. He starts the 2015 season fully healthy and after a full off-season in the Patriots training program. A big leap is expected from the disruptive second year defender. Brown on the other hand is expected to make an immediate impact. The Patriots were incredibly lucky to have such a talented prospect fall into their lap at pick 32 (thanks Colts) and he’ll be tasked with replacing some of the production of Vince Wilfork.

While the two are completely different players, both can be disruptive and get up the field. Brown has drawn comparisons to Vince Wilfork because of his size, but the truth is he’s much more athletic than the Wilfork of the last few seasons, and a lot more versatile. For Easley, I expect the coaching staff to put him into more positions where he can beat defenders 1-on-1 and penetrate upfield. With his relatively slight frame, he’s much more productive when he is 1-Gapping and does not have to worry about holding up blockers or occupying run lanes. The Patriots have other veterans at the position that will ease some of the burden. However if the Patriots want to get back to the Super Bowl they’ll need a lot of production and disruption from these two.

5. Jamie Collins (LB) – Now entering his third season, the buzz and hype surrounding the former Southern Miss product is at an all-time high. Collins offers a tantalizing combination of skills including his range, straight line speed, and coverage skills. He’s a feared blitzer up the middle and can force turnovers in the passing game. He’s the most dynamic player on the Patriots defense and a player that other teams will have to scheme for. There aren’t many players like Jamie Collins in the NFL and if he can make a “3rd year leap” similar to what Dont’a Hightower just accomplished, then we’re looking at one of the best defensive players in the entire league.

4. Jimmy Garoppolo (QB) – Whether it’s 4 Games, 2 Games, or 1 Game it’s important for Jimmy G to get the Patriots off to a respectable start. Regardless of the Deflategate situation, Garoppolo needs to show improvements during his second year and continue his upward development. If he’s ever going to take over for Brady he must continue he must prove to the coaching staff that he has the qualities to be a starter in this league and that he was worth a 2nd Round draft pick. More than anything Jimmy G. needs to show he has the ability to be a leader, can diagnose defensive coverage, and manage the game when he’s under center.

3. Malcolm Butler (CB) – Expectations are high for Butler entering this season and the coaching staff is expecting him to win one of the starting CB spots. During his rookie season Butler showed a number of skills that are uncommon in a rookie, let alone a rookie free agent. His ball skills and ability to read routes were on display from the first day of mini-camp. It was clear early on that he had a skill-set to play in the NFL and the coaching staff showed confidence by playing him over Kyle Arrington in the 2nd half of the Super Bowl. It’s critical to the success of this team that Butler enters the season with the same determination and work ethic despite his Super Bowl heroics. This is why we saw Bill Belichick suspended Butler for essentially all of the OTAs. If Malcolm Butler can develop into one of the top CB on this team and show consistent playmaking ability on the backend, then his defense will be alright. If Butler got a big head this off-season and fails to grab one of the CB spots, then his secondary could be in some trouble.

2. Devin McCourty (FS) – After signing a massive contract extension in the off-season Devin McCourty is now the unquestioned leader of the secondary. Like Nate Solder, McCourty is completely irreplaceable on the roster as there isn’t a true backup with a comparable toolbox. With the loss of key members in the secondary, McCourty’s range, instincts, and closing speed in coverage will all be ultra-important this season. As he’s now fully transitioned to free safety it’d be nice to see him develop into a little bit more of a playmaker and I look for him to force more turnovers in 2015, like many of his fellow elite free safeties often do.

1. Rob Gronkowski (TE) – There are two players on the Patriots roster that make the difference between winning the Super Bowl or losing the Super Bowl. One of them is TB12 and the other one is Rob Gronkowski. Without Gronkowski the Patriots can be a competitive team and often make deep playoff runs, but will never be a serious Super Bowl contender. With Gronkowski on the field they become a Super Bowl favorite and one of the best offenses in the leauge. I remember the devestating feeling in my stomach when I saw him go down to a knee injury in December 2013, just knowing that the Super Bowl was lost right then and there. Keeping Rob Gronkowski healthy and upright for January should be priority #1 for the Patriots because as we’ve seen the last few years, his presence on the field is the difference between a banner or an early playoff exit.

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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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