slides: Patriots Training Camp Position Battles & Players to Watch
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Final Running Back Spot: Brandon Bolden vs. Stephen Houston vs. Roy Finch
The top of the running back depth chart is set as Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in contract years, James Devlin showing great promise and James White joining the team via the NFL Draft. That leaves three players - Bolden, Houston and Finch - fighting for one spot.
Bolden holds the edge in terms of experience. The 3rd-year back has 22 games of experience at running back with two starts. Bolden is also an important part of the Patriots special teams units. Bolden has shown inconsistency at times, but his special teams value could help tip the scale in Bolden's favor.
Houston is the biggest of the three backs (6-0, 225 pounds) and brings a between the tackles running style that the Patriots are lacking. Houston is also a surprisingly good pass catcher for a bigger back. Houston hauled in 65 career passes in college. Houston's size and speed also make him a prime special teams candidate.
The final candidate is Roy Finch. Finch is a small (5-7, 180 pounds), speedy back. He has tremendous speed and a lot of experience at Oklahoma, excelling against good competition. Finch's speed makes him a prime candidate to return kicks and help return punts. Finch does find himself behind the curve already however. Finch was placed on the Reserve - Non-Football Injury list according to the NFL transaction wire. If Finch misses any significant time, he could find himself on the outside looking in.
Another option for Finch could be "stashing" him on NFI until midseason, then evaluating his health and either activating him or placing him on injured reserve.
Expected Winner: Stephen Houston
Interior Offensive Line: Ryan Wendell vs. Dan Connolly vs. Jon Halapio vs. Bryan Stork
Three of the five starting spots along the Patriots offensive line are set. Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder are all secure in their jobs, but the right guard and center spot are far from set.
The two spots were held by Ryan Wendell, at center, and Dan Connolly, at guard. They will be challenged in 2014 by Patriots draft picks Bryan Stork (center) and Jon Halapio (guard).
The guard position appears to come down to Connolly and Halapio. Both players are natural guards, but Connolly will make $4,083,344 against the salary cap in 2014 while Halapio will make $450,775 if he makes the team. This monetary factor combined with the inconsistency Connolly showed in 2013 could help Halapio. In the end Connolly holds his fate in his hands and should win the job.
The center position is a little more complicated. Wendell is the incumbent starter but struggled late in 2013, especially against larger defensive tackles. His main competition is Stork, a rookie 4th Round draft pick from Florida State. Stork is bigger than Wendell (6-4, 310 pounds vs. 6-2, 300 pounds) and has a very high upside. There is a chance, however, that neither wins the job. Dan Connolly could also be in the fold for the center position, where he started in Super Bowl XLVI in 2011.
Expected Winners: Bryan Stork (Center), Dan Connolly (Guard)
Backup Quarterback: Ryan Mallett vs. Jimmy Garoppolo
When the Patriots used their 2nd Round draft pick on Jimmy Garoppolo it came as a surprise to many. The Patriots still have Ryan Mallett under contract for 2014 and Tom Brady still is performing at an extremely high level.
Could Garoppolo beat Mallett in Training Camp and become the primary backup to Tom Brady? Will Mallett even be a part of the Patriots roster? Mallett has been the subject of multiple trade rumors, but they have not developed into anything as of yet.
It is conceivable that the Patriots do carry three quarterbacks in 2014. The last time the roster had three quarterbacks was Mallett's rookie season when he and Brian Hoyer both handled backup responsibilities.
Expected Winner: Ryan Mallett
Related Slideshow: Patriots to Watch: Training Camp 2014
TE Rob Gronkowski
"He's been cleared to play." Five words that uttered by Bill Belichick on Wednesday that brought smiles to the faces of Patriots fans everywhere. That is because Belichick was giving an update on Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski is recovering from an ACL tear late in 2013 and is ready for the start of Training Camp. The question with Gronkowski is simple - Can he be Gronk? The record-setting tight end. Or is he simply Rob Gronkowski? The oft-injured tight end.
OLB Jamie Collins
The lasting image of Collins is his dominant performance in the Divisional Round of the 2013 NFL Playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts. Collins finished with six tackles, a sack and an interception.
Now Collins will be starting at linebacker in 2014. After having most of 2013 be essentially a Red Shirt season, Collins will have to prove he can be a complete linebacker for 16-plus games.
Also, if for no other reason, Collins is an extremely exciting athlete. His athletic ability allows him to do things on the football field many fans have not seen from a Patriots linebacker in a long time, if ever.
RB Shane Vereen
Vereen is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is in desperate need of completing a full season without injury.
Vereen has shown a great deal of promise when he is healthy and on the field, but his injury history constantly derails that. Vereen is quick, shifty and has great hands. He is a complete weapon that should be one of Tom Brady's favorite weapons in 2014.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
Tompkins was a key piece to the Patriots' offense in 2013. He faded late in the year, leaving many to believe he would be a potential roster cut going into 2014.
Tompkins has turned that into motivation, turning heads in OTA's. He struggled, at times, to get on the same page as Tom Brady in 2013 and also struggled to consistently perform. His ceiling is very high, but can Tompkins realize his potential in 2014?
OT Sebastian Vollmer
Vollmer suffered a broken leg in 2013, ending his season. He will be returning and likely reassume his role at the starting right tackle. Keeping an eye on Vollmer's mobility will be key.
The offensive line, as a unit, is also a group to keep an eye on as they move on from the Dante Scarnecchia era and into the Dave DeGuglielmo era.
LB Jerod Mayo
Mayo is another player coming off an injury in 2013. His pectoral injury ended his season early and he will be looking to make a big comeback in 2014.
There is also potential that Mayo could be moving to an inside linebacker role, as seen in OTA's. With a linebacker core of Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Mayo, the veteran presence of Mayo will be the key to a successful season for the linebackers.
DE Chandler Jones
Can Chandler Jones take that next step in his development? He improved on his rookie season by collecting 11.5 sacks in 2013. Now the Patriots will look for continued improvement in 2014.
Jones will be competing against two very good tackles, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, in Training Camp. This will let fans see how he has improved and if he has made another step towards being a dominant defensive player.
DT Vince Wilfork
As of Wednesday night, Wilfork has not been placed on the PUP list. This is surprising to some as Wilfork continues to recover from a torn achilles in 2013. How will Wilfork's body react to his return to the field? Can he be a run stuffing defensive lineman again? That should be seen very early in Training Camp.
CB Darrelle Revis
Darrelle Revis was the single biggest addition of the NFL offseason. The former Jets and Buccaneers cornerback signed in New England on a contract that is essentially for one season (2nd-year option for $25 million). Can he lead New England to a Super Bowl title?
Revis is over a full year removed from ACL surgery, and should be back to his elite, dominant form.
QB Tom Brady
It is obvious that Tom Brady is the person to watch in Training Camp. Brady is one of the top quarterbacks of all time and is a fiery competitor. Watching Brady practice is an experience that few fans get to experience, and should be taken advantage of before the quarterbacks career winds down.
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