I am pleased to announce that I will be writing previews here at Foxboro Blog for the fourth straight season. This offseason for the Patriots has been one of the more eventual and tragic ones in team history. Whether it was the acquisition of Tim Tebow, the loss of Wes Welker to free agency, and the arrests of Alfonzo Dennard and Aaron Hernandez, who is no longer with the team, this team left no boring days during the offseason.
As training camp is now underway, Tom Brady is trying to break in a new corps of wide receivers and tight ends with Rob Gronkowski likely starting the season on the PUP list.. As for the defense, they are looking to take the next step to becoming a championship defense with most of the unit back from last season. Even though the roster has taken a hit, the AFC East is still winnable.
The preseason begins Friday as the Patriots travel to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have had an interesting offseason of their own. They hired a new head coach in former Oregon man Chip Kelly to replace Andy Reid. In Kelly's first offseason, he has seen wide receiver Jeremy Maclin tear his ACL and become out for the season, and another wide receiver, Riley Cooper, just came back from counseling for an inapprorpiate word used at a Kenny Chesney concert. Add that to being one of the five worst teams last year, and Kelly has situations of his own. A QB competition is also underway, with Michael Vick getting the start on Friday night.
With that being said, here are some positions on the Patriots I am watching for in this first preseason game:
1. Subbing In Sudfeld: During this offseason, the talk has centered around Tom Brady's targets as being up to par with the 2006 group that featured Reche Caldwell as its leading receiver. With Welker, Gronk, and Hernandez gone, the Patriots need diamonds in the rough to emerge on the offense. Enter undrafted free agent Zach Sudfield. The rookie from Nevada has worked with the first team in practice and has made some great catches in joint practices with the Eagles. With Coach Belichick loving those two tight end sets, expect Sudfield to get a lot of reps in the preseason opener Friday with both Brady and Ryan Mallett.
2. Safety Not So Strong? The Patriots' secondary still remains a huge question mark, even before the possibility that cornerback Alfonzo Dennard mght be either jailed in Nebraska for a probation violation or suspended by the NFL when the season begins. At safety, it isn't much better. The Patriots' front office is hoping that Adrian Wilson, the former Arizona Cardinal, can help with underneath coverage to prevent those big plays that haunted the Pats all of last season. Wilson and Devin McCourty are going to be the players to watch in the secondary, but keep an eye on second year safety Tavon Wilson and rookie Duron Harmon, who have impressed the coaching staff at both strong and free safety.
3. Lacking The Right Guard: New England has seen their depth go down at one position this offseason and that is right guard. With Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Tyronne Green, and Markus Zusevics out, the Patriots have tried to slide in Will Svitek, a backup tackle, to play at right guard. If Tom Brady is going to have a great season, he does need his offensive line, and when any position on the line has a backup tackle playing guard, that has to be a situation the Patriots are keeping an eye on.
My Player To Watch: Linebacker Jamie Collins – The second round pick in this year's draft out of Southern Miss will be a player I am keeping an eye on. In training camp, Belichick has used him in a variety of different packages, such as covering tight ends and running backs, according to Doug Kyed of NESN. However, I am interested in seeing if Belichick uses him as a third down pass rusher because even with Chandler Jones, the Patriots still could use the help at getting after the quarterback. Can the rookie from Southern Miss bring a different dimension to the pass rush?