Patriots Training Camp Preview: Positional Battles to Watch

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With rookies reporting to training camp this Sunday, and everybody else expected to follow just a few days later, football is just about back.  The New England Patriots are set to begin their camp on Friday, July 26th, which means that preseason football is right around the corner, which means that actual football will shortly follow. 

In addition to conditioning players, training camp is all about positional battles and securing a spot on the 53-man roster.  Here are a few to keep an eye on over the next couple of months.

Photo courtesy of  USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Back

The deepest position on the Patriots depth chart, and arguably amongst the top groups in the NFL, the defensive backfield will have plenty of competition to watch throughout the Summer.  Stephon Gilmore has the top spot locked down, and then it’s wide open. 

The team was in the same position last year, as they entered camp without a clear cut #2.  It eventually became Eric Rowe, who gave way to Jason McCourty, who was usurped by J.C. Jackson.  With Rowe now gone, Jackson and McCourty will battle it out, alongside second-round draft pick Joejuan Williams.  It feels like each brings something different to the table. 

McCourty possesses veteran savviness and over 10 years of experience, which can help overcome any talent deficiencies he may have at this stage of his career.  Jackson feels like the one with the most individual talent.  Had it not been for some legal issues during his college days - though he was found not guilty on all charges - he likely would not have gone undrafted.  With Williams being a rookie, it’s difficult to assess his talent level, but the one thing he does possess that the other two don’t is size. 

There’s also going to be some competition for the slot position.  Jonathan Jones may be the favorite, but he will certainly be pushed by Duke Dawson.  Having missed his entire rookie season due to injury, you can bet Dawson will be motivated to show everybody why the Patriots used a second round pick on him two years ago. 

Then there's Keion Crossen, who as a seventh round pick appeared in 11 games for the Patriots last year, and all three postseason games.  He showed some promise and appears to have a bright future, like the rest of his teammates. 

This is a very versatile group, and it will be a fun one to watch compete these next couple of months.

Backup Quarterback
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The most irrelevant position on the roster, until it’s not.  Nobody cares too much about the backup quarterback, until disaster strikes.  That’s why for the past two and a half years, the fact that Brian Hoyer has been Tom Brady’s backup hasn’t been an issue; though he is a serviceable backup with starter experience. 

However, there’s some intrigue at the position this year.  For the second straight year, the Patriots have used draft capital on a quarterback, despite having the best to ever do it already on the roster.  Using a seventh round pick on Danny Etling two years ago wasn't a major investment, but they did keep him on the practice squad all season, as opposed to releasing him. 

This year, they used a little more of a valuable pick with a fourth round selection of Jarrett Stidham.  With that, the Patriots enter camp with four quarterbacks on the roster.  Historically, the Patriots have been a two quarterback team.  They last carried three quarterbacks out of necessity, when Brady was suspended for the first four games of 2016.  Before then, the last time they had that many quarterbacks on the roster was in 2011 with Brady, Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. 

That was Mallett's rookie season, and he was a third round selection; so the Pats had made a bit of an investment on him.  Stidham enters camp in a similar position.

Will they break the pattern and carry three quarterbacks this year?  They certainly won't carry four.  Will Stidham show enough to earn the backup job ahead of Hoyer, or will Hoyer be the back up by default given his experience in the league?  Reports of Etling practicing with special teams during minicamp seem to indicate that even he knows his best chance at making this team is at another position.

Tight End

This position will be under the microscope from Day 1 with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski.  Old friend Ben Watson figures to be the starter, or at least get a majority of the snaps when he returns, but his four-game suspension to start the year opens it up for others.  The remaining four candidates have a combined 49 career receptions and two touchdowns. 

Ryan Izzo (7th round pick two years ago) and Andrew Beck (undrafted free agent this year) haven't played a single snap in the NFL.  So, it would seem that the starting position will come down to Stephen Anderson and Matt LaCosse; though Izzo and Beck will certainly get a fair chance.  I'm sure many of you finished reading this paragraph and are asking yourselves, who?

Anderson would seem to have a leg up on LaCosse, having spent last season on New England's practice squad.  However, he never made it onto the playing field and hasn't played in a game since 2017.  LaCosse, meanwhile, had 24 receptions in 15 games for the Denver Broncos last season. 

For a team who has relied so heavily on tight end production for nearly the past decade, now having lost its top dog, this will be a captivating position to watch during camp.


Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34


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Boston Sports Syndicate: Patriots Training Camp Preview: Positional Battles to Watch
Patriots Training Camp Preview: Positional Battles to Watch
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