Everything you need to know about Patriots training camp in 2018

The two-time defending AFC champions are back with a bevy of fresh faces.

New England Patriots Tom Brady
Tom Brady makes this lucky fans' day after practice at the New England Patriots training camp in 2017. –Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Before NFL teams get to compete on Sundays, they spend countless sweaty hours on practice fields across the country.

Here is everything you need to know as the Patriots prepare to open training camp:

Rookies report: Sunday, July 22

Veterans report: Wednesday, July 25

First practice open to the public: Thursday, July 26, 9:15 a.m.

Other announced practice dates: July 27-29, 9:15 a.m. (time subject to change).

Joint practice dates: New England won’t hold any joint practices this year.

Preseason opener: vs. Washington, Thursday, Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m.

Season opener: vs. Houston, Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m.

New England’s complete 2018 schedule

New season, new faces

The two-time defending AFC champions are back with a bevy of fresh faces, led by free agent addition Adrian Clayborn and first-round draft picks Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel. Here’s a quick rundown of New England’s rookies and newcomers:

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Rookies

John Atkins, DL, Georgia (6-4, 320); Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue (6-2, 255); Braxton Berrios, WR, Miami (5-9, 190); Corey Bojorquez, P, New Mexico (6-0, 208); Keion Crossen, DB, Western Carolina (5-10, 185); Duke Dawson, DB, Florida (5-10, 198); Danny Etling, QB, LSU (6-3, 225); Trent Harris, DL, Miami (6-2, 255); Frank Herron, DL, LSU (6-4, 305); Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida St. (6-5, 255); J.C. Jackson, DB, Maryland (6-1, 198); Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (5-11, 215); A.J. Moore, DB, Mississippi (5-11, 201); Christian Sam, LB, Arizona St. (6-2, 240); Ralph Webb, RB, Vanderbilt (5-10, 200); Shane Wimann, TE, Northern Illinois (6-4, 250); Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia (6-2, 310).

Veteran newcomers

Luke Bowanko, OL, No. 72, (6-6, 305); Trent Brown, OL, No. 77, (6-8, 380); Adrian Clayborn, DE, No. 94, (6-3, 280); Jeremy Hill, RB, No. 33, (6-1, 230); Ulrick John, OL, No. 67, (6-5, 312); Jordan Matthews, WR, No. 80, (6-3, 215); Troy Niklas, TE, No. 86, (6-6, 265); Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, No. 84 (6-2, 228); Danny Shelton, DL, No. 71 (6-2, 345); Matt Tobin, OL, No. 64, (6-6, 310).

How to watch training camp

It can be easy to lose track of the action. But Patriots practices can be fascinating if you pay close attention. Which players are winning the position battles? Which combinations are the coaches using on the offensive line and in the secondary? Which undrafted rookie is standing out? Which esoteric game scenario is Bill Belichick working on repeatedly?

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We’ve developed a guide for tips on how to watch practice. Here’s the cheat sheet:

1. Weekdays offer better access; 2. Pick a low vantage point for individual drills, and a high one for team drills; 3. Memorize the roster and jersey numbers; 4. Watch Belichick — a lot; 5. Take notes on the positional pairings and combinations; 6. Grade the one-on-one battles, and be descriptive; 7. Take note of game situations; 8. Listen to what the coaches are telling the players.

Position battles

Running back

Who’s in contention: James White, Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden, Sony Michel, Ralph Webb.

Quick hits: New England has some decisions to make with a glut of talent in the backfield and no clear top dog. White, an able receiver; Burkhead, a fiesty back who excelled near the goal line in 2017; and the first-round pick Michel are roster locks. That leaves one or two remaining spots and four competitors. Hill served as a reliable short-yardage option in Cincinnati. Bolden is an important special teamer playing for a coach who values that facet of the game more than most. Gillislee wasn’t as effective as projected after New England spent a fifth-round pick for him prior to the 2017 season. Webb amassed more than 4,100 yards on 4.5 yards per carry in four years at Vanderbilt. It’s harder for running backs than for wide receivers to isolate themselves above their peers at training camp because of the number of non-contact drills, but if any back outside the top three shows unanticipated burst this summer they could eek their way onto the 53-man come fall.

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Wide receiver

Who’s in contention: Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron, Cody Hollister.

Quick hits: New England’s depth at wideout will be tested for the first quarter of the season as Edelman serves his four-game PED suspension. Hogan is a vital deep threat if he can stay healthy, a lingering issue for the wideout that plagued him last season. Matthews suffered a down year in 2017 with Buffalo, snaring just 25 receptions for 252 yards after surpassing 65 catches and 800 yards in each of his first three seasons in Philadelphia. Matthews could return to form in an offense that favors talented slot men. Mitchell possesses plus size but missed all of last season because of knee issues. Things get hazier from there. Dorsett, New England’s return for quarterback Jacoby Brissett, hasn’t lived up to expectations and will need to flaunt his speedy promise as he battles for a roster spot. Patterson’s spot is more secure because of his electric kick return capabilities, but the 27-year-old lacks the receiving prowess of some of his competitors. Britt is an NFL veteran whose team option was picked up in March. He will likely have to battle Dorsett for the fifth spot. Berrios, McCarron, and Hollister project as practice-squad members.

Tight end

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Who’s in contention: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Will Tye, Ryan Izzo, Troy Niklas, Shane Wimann.

Quick hits: Few areas on New England’s roster hold as much intrigue as backup tight end. Gronkowski, perhaps you’ve heard, is the No. 1 man. That leaves six men for one or two remaining spots. One would assume Allen, who comes with a $5 million cap hit, should be secure because of his blocking aptitude. If New England yearns for a cheaper alternative, they have options. Tye enjoyed intermittent success with the Giants before their own roster crunch sent the 26-year-old packing. Hollister made last year’s team after going undrafted out of Wyoming and saw limited run. Izzo, Niklas, and Wimann represent longer-shot candidates to crack the final 53, though Belichick values a cheap grinder should the right man emerge.

Cornerback

Who’s in contention: Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson.

Quick hits: The first five names on this list are virtual locks. McCourty joins his brother, Devin, in the secondary, and much of the unit’s success will hinge on how well he patrols his side of the field. New England could house a sixth cornerback, particularly if Cyrus Jones exhibits the peskiness that made him a second-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft and not the tortured results of his first two seasons as a pro. Crossen ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at his pro day, which would have tied for first place at the combine. Lewis and Jackson will likely be signed to the practice squad.

Offensive line

Who’s in contention: Marcus Cannon, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown, Ulrick John, LaAdrian Waddle, Luke Bowanko, Matt Tobin, Andrew Jelks, James Ferentz, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, Jason King, Cole Croston.

Quick hits: Nate Solder’s departure to the Giants leaves a gaping vacancy at left tackle. Andrews, Mason, and Cannon are near locks on the right side of the line. Thuney, entering his third year in the league, is the leading candidate at left guard, but his hold on the position is tenuous after suffering rocky stretches in 2017. That leaves Solder’s replacement, which could spark an interesting struggle between Brown, Wynn, Waddle, and Croston, with the former enjoying a slight edge as camp approaches. Croston will more likely serve as a depth option at guard on New England’s bench. Karras backs up Andrews at center and gives the Patriots added depth at all five slots up front.

Punter

Who’s in contention: Ryan Allen, Corey Bojorquez

Quick hits: One of the most entertaining battles during minicamp, this should continue throughout the summer. The two lefties alternated big kick after big kick during their three-day showcase, making life difficult for the myriad punt return candidates. Allen has long been one of the league’s best, showing the ability to boom the ball and place it. The height on some of Bojorquez’s punts led to oohs and ahhs from practice observers this spring.

Traditions

■ Fans usually sing “Happy Birthday’’ to Tom Brady on Aug. 3 (He’ll turn 41 this year). One year, offensive lineman Matt Light smushed a cake in Brady’s face. Five years ago, “Happy 40th Birthday, Tom’’ T-shirts were made for the whole team. He was only turning 36.

■ The rookies, at some point, go through a muddy slip-n-slide. The equipment workers soak a back corner of the field, and rookies have to dive into the slop while being hosed down by a veteran (usually Brady).

■ After each practice session, a position group (or two, depending on how many players are in each position group) spends time signing autographs for fans.

Miscellany

■ Parking and admission are free. Practices are on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.

■ The schedule throughout training camp is tentative and subject to change. Fans planning to attend practice should check Patriots.com for daily updates or call the training camp hotline at 508-549-0001.

■ When the Patriots are forced to practice indoors because of inclement weather or poor field conditions, practices will be closed to the public.

■ There are concessions positioned around the practice fields and the Patriots Fan Zone.

■ Prohibited items: Animals (except service animals assisting those with disabilities), alcohol, beach balls, bullhorns and air horns, coolers, fireworks or pyrotechnics, helium balloons, illegal drugs or any other illegal substances, laser pens, noise makers, video cameras, weapons of any kind (including knives), unmanned aircraft systems, remotely controlled model aircraft, selfie sticks, and GoPro cameras. Flags will be allowed, however flagpoles more than 2 feet in length will not be allowed.

Driving directions

■ From Boston and farther north: Take I-95 South to Exit 9. Follow Route 1 south approximately 3 miles to Gillette Stadium (on the left).

■ From Cape Cod: Take I-495 North to Exit 14A. Follow Route 1 north about 4 miles to Gillette Stadium (on the right).

■ From southern Connecticut, Rhode Island: Take I-95 North to I-495 North to Exit 14A. Follow Route 1 north about 4 miles to Gillette Stadium (on the right).

■ From northern Connecticut, Vermont, upstate New York: Take I-90 East to I-495 South to Exit 14A. Follow Route 1 north about 4 miles to Gillette Stadium (on the right).

Key league dates

July 16: Deadline for any club that designated a franchise player to sign such a player to a multiyear contract or extension.

July 23: Signing period ends for unrestricted free agents to whom a “May 8 tender’’ was made by prior club.

July 23: Signing period ends for transition players with outstanding tenders.

Aug. 2: Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

Aug. 7: Deadline for players under contract to report to their clubs to earn an accrued season for free agency.

Aug. 7: If a drafted rookie has not been signed by this date, he can’t be traded this season.

Sept. 1: Rosters cut to 53 on active/inactive list by 4 p.m. EST.

Sept. 1: Players on PUP or non-football-injury lists must move from active to reserve.

Sept. 2: After 1 p.m. EST, practice squads of 10 can be formed.

Sept. 6: Season opener, Falcons at Eagles.

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