The New England Patriots have completed the spring portion of their offseason program, including organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. The offseason lull is officially upon us, with roughly five weeks before the team opens training camp in late July.
Six practices over the past four weeks have been made open to the media. Naturally, there have been some developments in that time. Now seems like as good a time as any to take stock of where the Patriots stand, so let's get right to the questions.
The weakest position is clearly tight end. Undrafted free-agents Justin Jones and Asa Watson have been competing with veteran Michael Hoomanawanui for reps. In a perfect world, the Patriots would have kept Zach Sudfeld on the practice squad for a year to give him time to bulk up and learn the offense. Instead, they are starting from scratch with two green rookies.
The strongest is cornerback. Between Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan and this year's spring wonder in bloom, Daxton Swanson, the Patriots have plenty of depth at cornerback — and that's not even listing Alfonzo Dennard, who has missed all of spring practices.
@ErikFrenz Is Harmon REALLY going to be the starting Strong Safety? If so, should that be a concern?— Wil Kramlich (@WilTalkSports) June 20, 2014
Right now, the starting job appears to be his to lose. He has spent a lot of time this spring working with Revis, Browner and safety Devin McCourty; on Wednesday, the four were spotted on one side of the field, talking and walking through different scenarios, while the rest of the team was working on special teams drills on the opposite field.
There have been reports that Logan Ryan could get some run at strong safety this season, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick certainly didn't shoot down those reports when asked about it, but Ryan has remained at cornerback thus far.
Harmon is the best and most experienced strong safety on the roster right now. I don't think it's a mistake that they didn't make any moves at the position this offseason. Even in his limited action (three starts, 38.9 percent of the snaps), he showed the appropriate skill set — reaction time, instincts, closing speed and tackling ability — to play strong safety in the Patriots defense and be successful at it.
We haven't seen much from Dominique Easley this spring, and we only got our first glimpse at the Patriots' first-round pick on Thursday, but he looked good coming out of his stance and changing directions on his surgically repaired right knee, which was wrapped in a grey sleeve.
Easley should provide an athletic, explosive, and (in Belichick's oft-repeated word) "disruptive" presence to the rotation at defensive tackle. With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly still kicking around, Easley would have to beat out one of those two in order to become a starter.
Rookie center Bryan Stork took a pair of penalty laps for messing up the snap count during our view of minicamp. Both Stork and veteran Ryan Wendell got opportunities to snap to Tom Brady, but Wendell seemed to get far more of them. Stork will have to turn things around in training camp if he wants to compete for the starting job.
If Stevan Ridley can hold onto the ball, he should still be the primary back. However, one under-the-radar fact: according to statistics website Pro Football Focus, Shane Vereen earned 297 snaps in the regular season, just shy of Ridley's 341 snaps, despite missing eight games due to a wrist injury. With LeGarrette Blount out of the picture, Ridley could earn more carries, but in terms of snaps, he and Vereen could be part of a 50-50 split in the backfield.
Rookie James White will probably be sprinkled into the mix, as will third-year veteran Brandon Bolden, but neither is likely to be more than a change-of-pace back.
Last year, the Patriots' running backs combined for 435 carries. Barring another outbreak of fumblitis, I would pencil in Ridley for roughly 200 carries, Vereen for around 100 with some receptions, with White and Bolden splitting the rest at roughly 50 each. It all depends on how far the passing game has come, though; last year, the running attack was a focal point because the passing game took some time to get moving. If Brady is in better rhythm with his receivers this year, there could be fewer carries to go around.
@ErikFrenz is Armstead fact or fiction? I feel as if Pats fans are searching for a unicorn when it comes to him— Dan Ackerly (@t00bahhero) June 20, 2014
He is fact. There is photographic evidence of his existence; however, much like Big Foot, it's one photograph and then a whole lot of mystery. My take: stop thinking about Armstead until we see him on the field.
Got room for one more.
Christian, it would really depend on how much it's going to cost. The Patriots have already spent big money at cornerback this offseason, and their relative depth at cornerback is considered to be strong.
One reason the Patriots may be looking into Flowers: We recently learned (from Ben Volin of The Boston Globe) that Dennard had offseason shoulder surgery, which is why he has missed all of the team's workouts to this point. Dennard should be ready to go for the start of training camp, but he and Logan Ryan will be competing to be the Patriots' Week 1 starter at cornerback opposite Darrelle Revis. Once Brandon Browner returns form his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, Dennard and Ryan will be pushed into the No. 3 and 4 roles.
Flowers could probably find a home with a team in need of a No. 1 or 2 cornerback, so unless the Patriots are willing to pony up a pretty penny once again for a corner, they could be out of the running for Flowers relatively quickly.
Thanks for your questions, everyone. I'm on vacation for a couple weeks. See you in early July.