What To Look For As Spring Practice Commences?

The New England Patriots’ three-day mandatory minicamp kicks off Tuesday morning on the Gillette Stadium practice fields. Here’s a look at nine players we’ll be watching this week:

Tom Brady, quarterback

Brady will take the field with his Patriots teammates this week for the first time since Super Bowl LIII. As he did last year, the soon-to-be 42-year-old signal-caller opted to skip the voluntary portion of the Patriots’ offseason program, including the first five practices of organized team activities. While there’s no reason to expect any rustiness from Brady, it will be interesting to see how he jells with the myriad new pass-catching options New England added this offseason.

Michael Bennett, defensive end

Bennett, who resides in Hawaii during the offseason, was another no-show at voluntary workouts and OTAs, following a pattern he first set back in his days with the Seattle Seahawks. After racking up nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hits for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, Bennett was the Patriots’ marquee offseason addition on the defensive side of the ball and the player best-suited to replace the departed Trey Flowers.

This week will give us our first glimpse of how the veteran pass rusher fits into New England’s defensive scheme. We’ll also have our eye on rookie D-end Chase Winovich, who flashed his renowned motor during OTAs.

N’Keal Harry, wide receiver

Harry was one of the stars of the Patriots’ only open spring practice to date, leading all pass-catchers in receptions (five) and targets (10) and making a couple of impressive touchdown grabs. Now, we’ll see the first-round draft pick catch passes from Brady — whom he recently visited for a private throwing session — for the first time in a full-team setting.

Other wideouts who will be working with Brady for the first time include veterans Dontrelle Inman and Maurice Harris. Demaryius Thomas is not expected to take part in minicamp as he recovers from a torn Achilles.

Sony Michel, running back

Knee injuries took a significant bite out of Michel’s rookie season, so it wasn’t exactly encouraging to see the 2018 first-round pick already sidelined during OTAs. Team-released footage showed Michel has participated in at least one practice this spring, so his absence from the May 23 session that was open to reporters might just have been for maintenance purposes.

Still, the 24-year-old’s health and continued development — especially in the passing game, which was a weakness for him last season — will be a storyline as he looks to build on his solid debut campaign. If Michel is limited or misses more time, we could see increased reps for third-round draft pick Damien Harris, who’s coming off a 3,000-yard career at Alabama.

Matt LaCosse, tight end

The roster battle at tight end is, at this point, a total crapshoot. With Ben Watson — the most experienced and reliable member of this overhauled group — suspended for the first four games, five players who never have appeared in a game for New England are vying for the honor of replacing Rob Gronkowski as the Patriots’ No. 1 tight end to start the season.

LaCosse has just 27 NFL receptions to his name, but the former Denver Bronco stood out with a few nice catches during the first open practice. Minicamp also should provide our first look at veteran newcomer Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was excused from the first week of OTAs for personal reasons.

Duke Dawson, cornerback

Dawson was a second-round draft choice just one year ago, but the Patriots’ overflowing depth at cornerback makes it difficult to automatically pencil the Florida product into the 53-man roster. Dawson wasn’t active for a single game last season despite coming off injured reserve in mid-November. He’ll need to prove he deserves to stay over a player like Keion Crossen, who carved out a niche as a valuable special teamer in 2018. Dawson’s battle with Jonathan Jones for slot corner reps will be one to watch.

Jarrett Stidham, quarterback

The Patriots typically carry three quarterbacks on their 90-man roster during the spring and summer. Right now, they have four: Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling and Stidham, whom they drafted in the fourth round this year. That setup worked fine in the Brady-less OTAs but could get crowded now that QB1 is back in the mix.

It’ll be intriguing to see how second- and third-team reps are divvied up between the three backups. Two weeks ago, it was Hoyer taking the ball first, then Etling, then Stidham.

Isaiah Wynn, offensive tackle

Wynn wasn’t present during the lone open OTAs session, and the Patriots’ decision to move left guard Joe Thuney to left tackle — a position he hasn’t played since college — in that practice illustrated their precarious lack of depth at one of the game’s most important positions. Without an experienced veteran backup following Jared Veldheer’s retirement, the Patriots are banking on Wynn, who missed his entire rookie season with a torn Achilles, being ready to start in Week 1.

Jake Bailey, punter

Who’s ready for a good, old-fashioned punter battle? With incumbent Ryan Allen absent from the May 23 practice, the rookie Bailey put on an impressive show, skying punt after punt while working on a side field with kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The fifth-round pick also took some kickoff reps, displaying the versatility that made him a special teams standout at Stanford. It’ll take more than a big leg to unseat Allen — just ask last year’s challenger, Corey Bojorquez — but Bailey should be viewed as the favorite at this point based on skill set, draft slot and contract value.

We’ll also be closely monitoring the players catching those kicks and punts. The Patriots don’t have a clear-cut kick returner with Cordarrelle Patterson now in Chicago, and they could be looking for a new punt return man to lighten 33-year-old Julian Edelman’s workload.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

Source : https://nesn.com/2019/06/nine-patriots-players-to-watch-as-mandatory-minicamp-commences/

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What To Look For As Spring Practice Commences?

Source:NESN

What To Look For As Spring Practice Commences?