We’re through five days of Patriots training camp, now at the team’s first day off, and there’s been quite a bit to digest. So here’s five takeaways from the team’s first four practices, including two padded practices, that sums up a collection of observations and notes from camp.
1. Revis worth the hype — Let the obvious stand pat. New Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis has so far been exactly who we thought he would be, a fantastically smart and tough cornerback. His crafty insights at the position have made life difficult for the Patriots wide receivers group, albeit a welcome challenge for those with a competitive spirit. Coupled with Brandon Browner — tall, long, and menacingly physical — there’s quite a bit to watch as the team’s wide receivers get ready for the season and the team’s secondary jells.
2. Another good group of tight ends — Rob Gronkowski’s back. So that’s your baseline. Michael Hoomanawanui is back (and feisty), so there’s stability. And then there are the relative unknowns who are quickly making a name for themselves. Justin Jones (6-8, 275) is surprisingly quick and agile for a man of his size. He’s a pure athlete. D.J. Williams, the four-year veteran tight end, has shown his receiving skills to be quite promising. In 2011, he was clocked at 4.59 in the 40-yard dash. That speed has been apparent in camp. And then there’s Asa Watson, both big and fast, who has promise as well. With Jones and Williams starring behind Gronkowski and Hooman in practice, Patriots camp has now seen for the second straight year an influx of talented, relatively unknown tight ends come in and make some noise.
3. Jimmy Garoppolo struggles — Everything’s hard for rookies in Patriots training camp. But these times in camp can be especially hard on rookie quarterbacks, who often have to gather themselves mentally and physically and then somehow get on the same page as the bottom dwellers of the team’s roster. Garoppolo has had those kind of struggles, mixed in with mistakes of his own doing. The Patriots second-round draft pick has fumbled three exchanges on the snap in camp, sharing laps with rookie center Bryan Stork twice, and threw three interceptions in Saturday’s practice alone. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said the team was taking in the whole picture of his performance and putting emphasis on whether or not Garoppolo is improving while evaluating him. That goes for all new players.
“Really the most important thing, you want to talk about any player that comes into a new program or new system is kind of learning the way we do things, learning the operation, learn your skill, refine your skill, go out there perform the task, your skill, execute and then move on,” Caserio said. “Really the most important thing is to try to see the players that are consistent on a day to day basis that make the improvements. Look, there are going to be some good plays, there are going to be some bad plays. That’s football. That’s just the nature of what we’re doing. The idea is to hopefully minimize those and eliminate them the best you can and then continue to move forward.”
We expect some good days for Garoppolo to be around the corner.
4. James White an excellent addition — It’s clear when you see a good football player on the field going to work. Like when Julian Edelman is breaking in and out of his routes, you see the precision and the fluidity to his movements, something honed over time and repetition. It helps when you can compare a good player with another successful player at his position, so there’s an understanding of where he may stand in terms of talent and skill. In the first few days of camp, it’s been clear that rookie running back James White has exceptional skills and moves with the confidence of a veteran. White, the fourth round draft pick out of Wisconsin, led all running backs in touches on Sunday in 11-on-11 drills with eight, besting veteran Stevan Ridley by one. The two, despite a four-year gap in experience, move similarly and make decisions approaching the line with the same speed and determination. The Patriots obviously have been making an effort to see what White can and can not do, giving him an abundance of reps over other rookies as well as veteran Brandon Bolden. While White was once viewed strictly as a pass receiving back in the mold of Shane Vereen (something Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears told me was off base during minicamp), he is quickly becoming one of the camp’s top phenoms and is the team’s leading rookie.
5. Surprising lack of spark at defensive tackle — Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are the best pass rushers on the Patriots defense and those are your defensive ends. Vince Wilfork is the team’s top run stuffer. He’s your nose tackle. So there’s a hope that while evaluating the defensive line, somebody else sticks out to take the pressure off those three during the regular season. And while we’re only through two padded practices, it’s been disappointing to see that not one player of the expected lot really shine in 1-on-1s at defensive tackle. Sealver Siliga has gone 3-4, Chris Jones has gone 1-4, Joe Vellano has gone 1-3, and Marcus Forston has gone 3-2. The surprising front runner in those drills has been Eathyn Manumaleuna, who has been flawless (3-0) in limited reps. This could all speak more kindly to the team’s interior offensive line, or it could very well speak to the need for players like Tommy Kelly (knee) and Dominique Easley (knee) to return. It should be noted that players like Siliga, who have looked good and gotten reps with the first-team defense, may have a losing record in 1-on-1s, but they are being evaluated on much more than that of their game. The question, though, is who will stand out and really make a dent when the season comes along other than the obvious? It’s hard to tell at this point.