Friday marks the end of the New England Patriots’ organized team activities, but the offseason program has only just begun.
Next week marks the beginning of mini-camp (June 17-19). Training camp kicks off at the end of July. Less than two months remain before the beginning of the 2014 preseason. It all builds up to the Patriots regular season opener on September 7.
That’s a long time for competitions at starting spots to be decided, but also for the roster battles at the bottom of the depth chart to take shape and come to an end.
As the Patriots prepare for the next few months, let’s take a look back at some observations from OTAs.
Jimmy Garoppolo is a work in progress
The rookie quarterback made some nice throws during the media sessions, but was inconsistent at times. He has smooth footwork in the pocket, which was a strength of his at Eastern Illinois. His accuracy is up and down, and he sometimes has problems throwing into tighter windows.
On Thursday, Garoppolo had two one-on-one sessions/discussions with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels amid an extensive day of throwing with Ryan Mallett absent from practice.
“It’s pretty similar to most every other rookie quarterback I’ve had a chance to work with,” McDaniels said of working with Garoppolo. “It takes awhile before you can truly see them feel comfortable because their mind is going so fast. … You gotta give him some time, you gotta give him an opportunity to really get his feet on the ground and then once he’s done that you’ll get an opportunity, you know in training camp, but as training camp goes on to see what he really looks like in your system.
Garoppolo is dealing with a steep learning curve, moving from the Ohio Valley Conference to the NFL, but the Patriots coaches seem willing to practice patience with the development of their quarterback.
Julian Edelman remains top receiver
The Patriots re-signed Edelman this offseason, and the veteran pass-catcher picked up right where he left off last season — he was the best receiver on the field. He made leaping catches, caught passes in traffic, and made difficult grabs over the middle and down the sideline.
In fact, Edelman was able to get away from the coverage of cornerback Darrelle Revis to make three nice grabs in Thursday’s final media availability at OTAs. Previously, quarterback Tom Brady had been avoiding Revis entirely.
It is noteworthy that Brady hasn’t been locking in on Edelman throughout practice, instead spreading the ball around to Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and Danny Amendola. So far, though, Edelman is the clearcut top receiver on the field.
Rookie impact remains a question mark
Several rookies earned repetitions over the course of OTAs, but not many of them earned top billing.
Rookie center Bryan Stork spent some time snapping to Brady, but that ended on Thursday when Stork missed a snap count and ran a lap as punishment. Guard Jon Halapio rotated with Dan Connolly, at times, opening up the possibility of a competition at right guard.
Other than that, our view of the Patriots’ 2014 rookie class is still not anywhere close to in focus. First-round pick Dominique Easley is still rehabbing his ACL; the defensive tackle has yet to take a meaningful rep during media availability. Running back James White and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon are the only other draft picks to earn significant reps, and Gallon’s biggest role has been as a kick returner.
We didn’t expect anyone to jump off the field as a sure-fire starter through three practices, but none of the 2014 rookies are a lock for a big role.
Armond Armstead is a real person
It’s a sighting as rare as Big Foot. Folks had hardly seen Armond Armstead, but had only heard about him in lore. The Canadian Football League stand-out defensive tackle made an appearance in the first week of OTAs, but has not been spotted since.
Armstead was also not present at the Kevin Faulk Celebrity Softball Game on June 7, despite being advertised as such by the Patriots public relations staff.
Armstead was signed to a three-year contract last offseason. He went undrafted out of Southern California, due in part to a heart attack which has been the source of a legal dispute between Armstead and USC. He was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list Aug. 26, 2013, after having surgery to treat an undisclosed infection.
It’s been a tough battle already, but with a brewing battle at defensive tackle, there is some danger that Armstead could fall behind in the competition before he ever has a chance to show what he can do.
Alfonzo Dennard’s absence is Logan Ryan’s gain
The Patriots practiced without cornerback Alfonzo Dennard during the three sessions that were open to the media. That allowed Logan Ryan the opportunity to show what he can do as the top backup at cornerback, and he picked up right where he left off last season with tight coverage on a variety of receivers.
Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner have been the Patriots’ top duo in pass coverage throughout OTAs, but Browner is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, bringing into question the short-term solution at the starting spot opposite Revis.
Ryan had a strong rookie season, but there was speculation that he could move to safety. He has remained at cornerback throughout OTAs, though, and his services may be better used at his original position.
Plenty of position battles to watch the rest of the offseason
There are plenty of battles shaping up for training camp.
Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce are battling it out for the fifth roster spot at wide receiver, and both seem to have brought their A-game this offseason. Thompkins appears to have put on some muscle, and Boyce looks impressive coming off an injury-riddled rookie season and a season-ending ankle injury.
On Thursday, a number of players took reps at center, including Josh Kline, Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly. The Patriots re-signed Wendell to a two-year deal this offseason, but he doesn’t look to be getting any assurances from the Patriots about his job security as the starting center.
Michael Hoomanawanui looks like the top backup tight end behind Rob Gronkowski, but the situation is murky other than that. Undrafted rookies Asa Watson and Justin Jones looked to be vying for the No. 3 spot, but neither did much to make himself stand out (although Jones naturally stands out for his freakish height).
There also seems to be a competition for spots at defensive tackle, with Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano duking it out over two spots (assuming Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Dominique Easley are all locks for the roster). That battle should clear itself up when Wilfork, Kelly and Easley are all able to be on the field in full capacity.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have started a battle royal among kick returners. Boyce has been among the first players taking reps returning kicks, with Roy Finch, Jeremy Gallon, Shane Vereen, Reese Wiggins, and Reggie Dunn all earning chances on returns as well.
We are still a far way out from any final answers as to the complexion of the Patriots roster.