With Patriots training camp starting up this week, there are a few storylines that should be focused on.
1. The back-up quarterback situation
All eyes will be on Tom Brady, who is coming up on his 42nd birthday August 3rd. The real question is, are the Patriots well-equipped for his eventual retirement. During camp, pay close attention to the backup quarterbacks, particularly rookie QB Jarrett Stidham. Once the Patriots drafted him out of Auburn, many were questioning Stidham’s ability to be the quarterback of the future. Stidham has done numerous interviews stating that he knows that he will not start in the foreseeable future and that he is doing everything he can to learn from the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Pay close attention to him during training camp. A big issue that he struggled with in college was getting the ball out fast. This was partially due to his below the average offensive line, however, Tom Brady notoriously passes the ball extremely quickly after receiving the snap. Learning under Tom Brady, Stidham could become the future of the New England Patriots franchise.
2. How deep does the wide receiver pool go?
One of the major issues on this roster is the lack of depth in wide receivers. Chris Hogan shipped off to Carolina leaving Julian Edelman and Demaryius Thomas as the Patriots veteran wide receivers. Thomas is listed on the PUP list due to his Achilles injury from last season, and Edelman is sitting out the first few weeks of training camp due to a thumb injury. This is the perfect opportunity to see all the young guys in action. Particularly, this will be a great opportunity to see N’Keal Harry. Harry is a great pick-up for the Patriots as an over-sized receiver, almost functioning as a tight end. He has already been practicing with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman at Brady’s home, so with some of the veteran wide receivers sitting out for the majority of training camp, we will see how the Brady-Harry relationship is playing out. Some other notable wide receivers to take notice of is returner Phillip Dorsett, former Colts, Bears and Chargers WR Dontrelle Inman, and rookie Jakobi Meyers.
3. Is Isaiah Wynn capable of left tackle?
The position of left tackle has been a revolving door these past few years for the New England Patriots. Nate Solder signed a massive contract with the New York Giants opening the door for Trent Brown, who signed a massive deal with the Oakland Raiders. Now, Isaiah Wynn will take the reigns. However, there are valid reasons to doubt him. He has played two games in a Patriots uniform during the preseason last year. He is undersized for a left tackle, so that could also pose an issue. He is also coming off of an Achilles injury, which could disrupt his ability to defend Brady’s blindside. However, in college, Wynn was an absolute stud. His senior year at Georgia, he only surrendered five pressures. If Wynn does not live up to expectations, watch Yodny Cajuste. He would be a fine backup to the position, and could even split reps with Wynn if there is any suspicion that he is not fully recovered from his Achilles injury.
4. What is going on with the tight ends?
The tight end position has a notable hole this season: Rob Gronkowski. Gronk retired earlier this offseason, leaving the Patriots with Jacob Hollister as their starting tight end. Well, Hollister was soon traded to the Seattle Seahawks leaving a gaping hole at the position.
Old friend Ben Watson signed with the Patriots this offseason. During his six-year tenure in New England, Watson had 167 receptions for 2,102 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Although Watson is on the older end of the league, his numbers do not show any regression. The past three years, Watson has averaged 11.1, 8.6, and 11.4 YPC. He has continuously been targeted and has had 12 touchdowns in the past three years. Watson is a great veteran pick-up for the Patriots and could teach some things to the young tight ends coming up in the system.
Watson, however, has a four-game suspension, so there will need to be another tight end in the starting position. Behind Watson on the depth chart is Matt Lacosse. He has four total years of NFL experience with the Broncos and the Giants. He is not the tight end of the future. I would expect the Patriots to try to pick up another tight end at some point during the preseason. However, perhaps being in an organization like New England could pull out a different side of Lacosse. The only thing known for certain about the tight end position is that Gronk will be dearly missed.
5. Who will fill Trey Flowers’ role?
Another big loss for the Patriots this offseason was Trey Flowers, who is currently on the PUP for the Detroit Lions. Flowers was a dominant player, and there is currently no single person on the Patriots that could fill his role.
However, with the acquirement of Michael Bennett from the Eagles, the Patriots could begin to fill that void. The other half of this void could be filled with third-round draft pick Chase Winovich. Winovich is a stud coming out of Michigan. Watching him develop into an NFL player is going to be fun for coaches and players alike.
An area that he excels in is defending the rush. This is amazing considering that Bennett is notoriously weak in that area. Winovich can also get to the quarterback. He was fourth in all of college football in quarterback pressures. The usage of these two players, particularly Winovich will be interesting to monitor through training camp.
Keep these storylines in mind as Patriots Training Camp progresses.