Last week at this time, we were gearing up for the Patriots to have their first practice in more than a month. After a week of seeing the team and watching its groupings (which I cannot stress enough will change), there are a number of things that have stood out. I boiled them down to five. Add your takeaways in the comments.
1. The offensive line is muddled — Brian Waters’ absence has caused the team to scramble a bit, particularly because the team was already going to be without Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer in practice while the two rehab. Instead, the Patriots have cycled through Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, and Robert Gallery at left guard, center, and right guard in the first team. Donald Thomas has gotten his chances in that group, too. But it’s nowhere near a settled situation and it will likely be of concern for the team heading into the preseason. However, this is the chance some of these players have been waiting for. Carpe diem to those guys. (Looking at you, Thomas.)
2. The competition at wide receiver is fierce — So far, there has been no greater standout than wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who has wowed the massive crowds at practice with his acrobatic catches. But if there is someone who is a close second, in terms of wow factor and just being all over the place, it has been veteran holdover Julian Edelman. We’ve always known Edelman to have the speed and the extra bit of juice needed to return kicks and punts, but he’s showing a level of competitiveness that is making it really hard on his fellow receivers, and embarrassingly rough on his counterparts at defensive back. Meanwhile, Deion Branch has been limited in practice and Donte’ Stallworth is showing he still has the ability to create separation and make big catches. If the Patriots carry only five receivers into the season again, it will be impossible to keep guys like Branch and Matthew Slater, who also serves as a special teams maven. This one may go down to the wire.
3. At right corner, it’s either Ras-I Dowling or Kyle Arrington — One of the nice things about camp is you immediately get a sense of where things stand with certain players, even if they can’t say where things stand themselves. For instance, Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling are battling for the starting position at right corner opposite of Devin McCourty. Don’t ask Dowling that, he’s just working hard. Last season, Arrington pulled in seven interceptions, but only after filling in for the injured Dowling, who went down in Week 2 with a leg injury. Dowling has come into camp ready to go. At 6-1, he’s been able to body up receivers in camp and win more matchups in 1-on-1 drills than any other defensive back. Arrington, for his part, is battling too. They’re both shifting back and forth with the first team. Keep an eye on this one.
4. Jermaine Cunningham is surging on the depth chart — The third-year linebacker/defensive end out of Florida is finally seeing some meaningful snaps in practice that suggests he will make a leap this year, something that was expected of him before last season’s M.I.A. posters went up. Cunningham finished the year on injured reserve after dressing for nine games. In camp, he’s worked his way up to fiddling with the first team, more or less in sub packages. But he’s still rough around the edges, jumping offsides twice Wednesday and having a tough time shedding blocks on the edge. He’s one person you should watch closely in the weeks ahead.
5. The first rounders are nothing to worry about — It’s those other guys the Patriots drafted that bring concern. Between Tavon Wilson (second round), Jake Bequette (third round), Nate Ebner (sixth round), Alfonzo Dennard (seventh round), and Jeremy Ebert (seventh round), the Patriots’ draft class is having a tough time staying on the field, either due to injury or play. Wilson and Bequette are battling for attention while Ebner, Dennard, and Ebert all have some sort of ailment that’s keeping them out of the fold. With the way things are shaping up in camp, it seems most are destined for the practice squad. The only one in position to stick around come the regular season is Wilson, if he can hold off veterans Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown at safety.