New England Patriots Training Camp: New Faces That Will Steal Show
Training camp starts in just about two weeks for the New England Patriots. With an influx of newly acquired players via free agency and the NFL draft, some of these fresh faces will emerge as playmakers throughout camp.
During last year's training camp, the then-recently signed defensive end Andre Carter proved early that he still had gas left in the tank and would go on to solidify himself as a starter on the defensive line.
In 2010, when Rob Gronkowski was a rookie tight end, he impressed onlookers with his offensive prowess. Gronk's showcase of both pass-catching and blocking abilities throughout camp earned him a starting gig in the offense in his first year in the league.
Now on the brink of the Patriots' 2012 training camp, where position battles will unfold and starting spots will be won and lost, which new faces can we expect to steal the show in camp?
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As it stands today, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones is the most physically gifted athlete on the defensive line.
With an impressive first step and a measured arm length of 35.5 inches, the 6'5", 265-pound product out of Syracuse should have little trouble disrupting passing lanes, shedding blockers and terrorizing quarterbacks in the NFL.
With Andre Carter's return still uncertain, Jones' competition lacks Pro Bowl talent.
Jones' physical attributes and elite athleticism are sure to turn some heads early and often in training camp.
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With the ability to play (and excel at) all linebacker positions in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme, Dont'a Hightower is the epitome of a versatile player.
We all know how much Bill Belichick covets versatility.
Hightower's positional flexibility will allow Belichick to create matchup nightmares for offenses in 2012 and you can be sure that he'll experiment with his new chess piece heavily throughout training camp.
Hightower is a rare talent that boasts both football intelligence and exceptional athleticism. With Belichick's defensive mind running the show, Hightower's talent won't go unnoticed in training camp.
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Brandon Lloyd already stole the show in organized team activities and minicamp and he is likely to carry that trend over into training camp.
Greg Knopping of PatsPulpit.com highlighted Brandon Lloyd as a "standout" player at the Patriots' minicamp in a recent blog post:
While expectations were high for Lloyd, even just heading into OTA's and minicamp, he seemed to have made a quick transition to the Patriots and excel in every opportunity given to him. It's still very early to make any conclusions, but Lloyd looks like a really promising addition at this point. He could really be the team's answer as a deep threat.
Lloyd's knack for making plays in the deeper half of the field have him poised to stand out throughout training camp.
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Missing all but two games in 2011, the Pats' second-year cornerback Ras-I Dowling isn't a new face in the film room, but he is certainly a new face on the practice field.
After outshining veterans Leigh Bodden and Kyle Arrington for the starting spot opposite Devin McCourty, Dowling's rookie season was cut short due to a hip injury he suffered in Week 2.
At 6'1'' and 198 pounds, Dowling is the largest cornerback in the Patriots' secondary.
Possessing a rare blend of physicality, size and speed (runs a 4.46 second 40-yard dash), Dowling has what it takes to succeed at the cornerback position at the NFL level.
In a recent piece from Boston.com, Greg A. Bedard opines on Dowling's rare abilities:
With his height, long arms and a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, he has the rare physical tools needed to eliminate the top receivers from other teams. No one else in the New England secondary has his length and explosion.
If he can evade any setbacks in his recovery and return to form, Dowling should emerge as one of the best, if not the best cornerback on the Patriots' roster during training camp.