By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots open Phase III of “voluntary” mini-camps on Monday and will conduct 10 of these until holding their mandatory mini-camp from June 17-19.
As with other off-season workouts, no pads are allowed, just helmets, but the workouts increase from four to six hours and for the first time, 7-7 and 11-11 play is involved. Monday and Thursday’s workouts are closed to media members but they will be allowed to attend on Friday. All workouts are closed to the public.
While all the jockeying for positions begins in earnest now, it will be especially true for the logjam at the wide receiver position. As of May 27, the Patriots have 11 WRs on the roster and they’ll be jockeying for six possibly seven positions at the most. And perhaps the most intriguing thing about the WR positional battle is that there are plenty of opportunities for not only roster spots but playing time as well.
Listed in alphabetical order, the players are:
Competition is expected to be fierce at this position and with a few players already locked into a roster spot; it will be interesting to watch who emerges as an early leader in getting first team snaps.
Big Season For Amendola:These mini-camps open a big season for Danny Amendola. There were questions about his being able to stay on the field prior to his signing with the team last spring. After a stellar pre-season and a huge opening game in Buffalo, his health issues crept in again, he tore his groin and missed time again as well as not being close to 100 percent for the duration of the season.
Amendola’s position on the roster for 2014 is fairly solid, he received a pro-rated bonus of $1.2 million and $2 million of his $3 million dollar salary is guaranteed for 2014. Unless he were traded, it wouldn’t be fiscally wise for him to be cut at this point.
But his future becomes much less clearer here in New England after this season. And if he can’t stay on the field and produce better than he did last season (54-633, 2 TDs), he may find himself cut loose after this season.
Edelman A Lock: Julian Edelman had a tremendous 2013, staying healthy and producing huge numbers for the Patriots offense (105-1056, 6 TDs) and becoming Tom Brady’s go-to guy. There’s no reason to doubt that will continue as long as Edelman remains healthy, which he is coming into this season, after missing much of mini-camp and the beginning of training camp last year.
Edelman just signed a 4-year $19 million dollar deal this spring so his roster spot is locked. The same goes for newcomer Brandon LaFell, and Matthew Slater. LaFell,the big (6’2, 210) WR caught 49 passes for Carolina in 2013 and signed a three-year deal this past march worth $9 million. Slater is a Special Teams captain and Pro-Bowler and isn’t going anywhere.
Aaron Dobson is very close to being a lock at this point in his tenure in New England, despite his struggles early in 2013. Dobson also had good production for a rookie with 37 catches for 519 yards and 4 TDs. His increased production was curtailed by a stress fracture in his foot that required surgery this spring.
Down the stretch in the Patriots last six games, he caught only 2 passes, mainly due to injury and while he’ll miss the OTAs here, look for him to have a big jump in production in 2014 as he becomes a bigger part of the offense.
Logjam at Remainder: The situation becomes murkier after that, Kenbrell Thompkins who shined through mini-camps and pre-season in 2013 started fast but faded somewhat down the stretch. Thompkins also suffered with injuries later in the season but he’ll have to have a strong showing this spring and summer to still be standing in September. Thompkins caught 32 passes for 466 yards and four TDs last year.
Last season’s fourth round choice Josh Boyce has more upside than Thompkins but didn’t see much of the field in 2013, catching only nine passes for 121 yards. He started very slowly but seemed to be catching on late in the season until he too suffered an injury that cut his season short. Like his fellow rookies, he struggled with drops and will need to show a big jump in 2014.
Dunn, Gallon, Harrison and Johnson each bring different elements to the table in their quest to find a roster spot. Dunn is a small (5’9) but dynamic kick returner who returned five kickoffs for over 100 yards in college, an NCAA record.
Gallon, likewise was a small (5’8) but very productive WR out of the slot in college at Michigan. His senior year he caught 89 passes for 1373 yards and nine TDs.
Harrison remains a bit of a wild-card. The big, physical (6’3, 230) WR from Rutgers was signed as a free agent last season but a foot injury kept him on the shelf all year in 2013. Harrison has the size and speed (4.37 in the 40) to compete for a spot on the roster as a WR. Many here looked upon him as a possible candidate to slide over into the “move” tight end position. We remarked upon that back in July during training camp last season. Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston made the point again this spring. It would be a way to bring some speed and receiving skills to the position formerly held by Aaron Hernandez.
So with many roster battles looming, the wide receivers will definitely bear watching this spring and into training camp. Stay with PatsFans.com and we’ll bring you all the developments as they occur down in Foxboro.
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.
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