New England Patriots' Players Feeling the Most Pressure Heading into Camp
Heading into organized team activities, the pressure is fully on for numerous members of the New England Patriots. With a large number of free-agent moves and a solid group of rookies, a number of Pats' players could see limited playing time, or worse, not make the squad.
The most pressure may be placed on the members of the new-look receiving corps. The Pats drafted two promising wideouts and picked up some free-agent veterans at the position as well.
The Patriots also strengthened their defense a bit this offseason with major additions to the defensive line and the secondary. Now approaching OTAs, the battle to secure a roster spot will be heating up.
Here are six Pats' players feeling the most pressure heading into camp.
On the defensive side, the pressure is on Jermaine Cunningham to step up, or else he could be left behind by the Patriots.
Cunningham's three seasons in New England have been slightly disappointing for someone drafted in Round 2 of the 2010 NFL draft. Other than his rookie campaign, he has primarily been a backup on the Pats' defense.
Now the Patriots have Jamie Collins, their first selection in this year's draft. Collins will likely compete to fill the hybrid linebacker and defensive end role that Cunningham failed to manage.
The Patriots also added a number of defensive linemen this offseason such as Armond Armstead and Tommy Kelly. Along with Collins, the Pats also took defensive end Michael Buchanan in the draft.
With so many defensive linemen and so few roster spots, there is a chance that Cunningham could be released. The Patriots already cut defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick earlier in the week.
Coming out of the University of Florida, Cunningham never turned out the way Bill Belichick and his staff thought he would. If he does not show improvement in camp, then the Pats could be moving on and relying on their new young additions.
Sure, it would be great to have a veteran presence within this young group of receivers. However, there just might not be enough room for the 6'4" wideout.
The Patriots made quite a few changes at wide receiver and addressed the position heavily in the draft and in free agency.
The team will hang on to top free-agent addition Danny Amendola, obviously, as well as Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, who are both very promising wide receivers from this year's draft.
In addition, the Pats re-signed Julian Edelman, signed Donald Jones and recently picked up six-year veteran Lavelle Hawkins. With only a limited number of roster spots, Jenkins will have to battle with these three and the remaining Patriot wideouts in camp.
Barring further injury, Edelman will likely remain on the roster, as well as special teams leader Matthew Slater. The pressure is on for Jenkins as he looks to keep his career from coming to a close.
Welker topped 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards in five of his six seasons as Tom Brady's go-to guy, so the bar is set extremely high for Amendola. He will be expected to produce similar numbers for the Patriots.
Amendola must become fully acquainted with his important role in this offense, as much of the passing game will run through him. It is important for Amendola and Brady to get on the same page quickly.
There have also been concerns with Amendola's past injuries, which caused him to miss a large majority of the St. Louis Rams' past two seasons.
The Patriots chose Amendola over Welker; therefore the pressure is on the four-year wide receiver to not only stay healthy, but also to produce at a very high level.
Looking back, the Patriots were very successful in the 2011 NFL draft. The one exception has been Ras-I Dowling, who was taken early in Round 2.
2011 draftees Nate Solder, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have all been prime contributors on offense. Marcus Cannon played in all 16 regular-season games in 2012, and even Ryan Mallett drew some trade buzz before this year's draft.
Meanwhile, Dowling has had a tough time even getting on the field in his two seasons with the Pats. He has only played in nine games since being drafted, ending both seasons on the disabled list.
Now, the Patriots are settled in with their top three cornerbacks: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington. Dowling will have to compete with recent third-round pick Logan Ryan, as well as Marquice Cole for the No. 4 spot.
The time is now for Dowling to step up and help this secondary. He faces the pressures of living up to his second-round hype and finally staying off of the DL for a season.
Julian Edelman has been a very solid all-around player for the Patriots. He has played a key role as a punt returner mostly but has also shown that he can be a reliable receiver, when healthy that is.
Last season, Edelman was playing quite well before being placed on the injured reserve with a foot injury in December. He caught three touchdown passes and returned a punt for a touchdown in nine games.
The Pats gave Edelman another shot by signing him in the offseason to a one-year deal. Unfortunately, Edelman has since re-injured his right foot, which leaves him in a walking boot as the Pats are about to start OTAs.
Edelman should be feeling the pressure of losing his valuable playing time. With the receiving unit battling over limited roster spots, he has no chance to prove himself until he is fully healthy, whenever that may be.
The addition of Leon Washington should also worry Edelman, as Washington will likely take over for Edelman as the main return man. Edelman needs to focus on letting his foot recover for now, but he could be seeing much less time on the field this season.
The most interesting position battle for the Patriots is at wide receiver. The team had a large void at the position heading into the offseason but have since added a number of receivers to fight for a spot on this high-octane offense.
The Pats signed Donald Jones, who had a fairly decent season with the Buffalo Bills last season. Jones has the potential to be a threat with Tom Brady, but first he has to prove to the coaching staff that he is ready to compete.
Like Michael Jenkins, Jones will not be given a roster spot easily. There are currently 11 wide receivers left on the Patriots' roster, and that number will continue to drop.
With Edelman sidelined by a foot injury, Jones has a chance to work his way up the depth chart. The pressure is on him to beat out Jenkins and Lavelle Hawkins to become a contributor for the Patriots.