By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots reported to training camp today and the season starts in earnest, no more off-season musings, it is for their jobs now. While everyone has their own things they are watching for during training camp, here’s what I’m looking for:
First Two Days Limited-
As per the new CBA, the first two days are basically a walk-through so not too much can be gleamed from that other than to watch the positions and formations they line up in and see who is getting the first team reps. Not very much in the way of competition there.
Rookies, How They Are Adapting-
Last season, the rookies had no mini-camps or OTAs to learn the playbook or get to understand the systems the Patriots run. Once the pads come on Saturday however, it will be a different story. I’m very interested to see how quick the rookies are to learn the system and be able to go out and play at full speed, without having to think their way through it. If they can react quickly and play their game, then the learning curve will be much shorter.
I’ll be watching them as the break the huddle and line up, are they in position and at the snap, are they reacting correctly. Mental mistakes are going to be made; it is an inevitable part of learning. But limiting them and not making the same ones twice is the key. Some of the rookies and what to look for:
- Dont’a Hightower-
It will be interesting to see where he lines up, and will the coaches move him around as many are predicting they will. Will he and Brandon Spikes compete for the slot or will Hightower be playing alongside Spikes and Jerod Mayo, allowing Mayo to roam free to make more plays. His development will definitely bear watching as I feel he’s the most NFL ready of the rookies.
- Chandler Jones-
Jones was the Patriots #1 pick, the edge rusher that Patriots fans have been clamoring for. The team actually moved up in the draft in the first round to select both he and Hightower, so expectations are high. Still a bit raw, I think eventually we’ll see Jones in the Willie McGinest, “Elephant” role on the edge. But probably not so much this year, probably more of a situational pass rusher as a rookie. I am just interested in seeing how much is put on his plate and how he does against NFL competition. Has the highest ceiling of the rookies but may take a year or two to develop.
- Jake Bequette-
Bequette was a big edge rusher in the SEC and I love his motor and his ability to provide fresh legs off the edge. He like Jones, probably won’t see a lot of three down snaps this year. But he’s tall, rangy and could help fill the pass rushing void the Patriots suffered with the loss of Mark Anderson and the absence of Andre Carter.
- Tavon Wilson-
Right or wrong Wilson will be under a ton of scrutiny this year as many of the experts on the NFL Draft were scratching their heads at the Pats pick of Wilson in the 2nd round, when many had him as an undrafted free agent. Wilson, can play either slot corner or safety and it will be interesting to see how the team plans on utilizing him. With so many teams spreading out defenses, the Patriots may plan on playing more dime than nickel coverages this season. Wilson could find a niche playing the extra defensive back role in replacing a linebacker.
Positional Battles Loom-
With the Patriots stockpiling free agents at WR and bringing in fullbacks and tight ends, the competition at WR, RB as well as the defense will be fierce. In case you missed our earlier pieces on positional breakdown, they are listed here:
Wide Reciever– http://patspub.patsfans.com/2012/07/20/wide-recievers-training-camp-positional-preview/
Running Backs- http://patspub.patsfans.com/2012/07/19/training-camp-postional-preview-running-backs/
Defensive Line– http://patspub.patsfans.com/2012/07/16/patriots-roster-competition-for-training-camp-defensive-line/
What To Look For Positionally-
When watching the different positions in camp, I always love the one-on-one drills. It’s easy to get a good feel on how a player is doing when they line up against one another. Later as camp progresses, we’ll look for more scheme oriented and situational matchups, but for now I look for individual performances.
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