Belichick has the team once again in numberless jerseys, forcing them to communicate and get to know each other. It's the very start of the the team-building process, and it gets built brick-by-brick.
The analysis of the draft picks continues to drift in, and it still remains unclear just how they'll fit in. The competition at multiple positions, especially safety and wide receiver, should be fascinating.
Here's the latest on how the Pats are shaping up for another run at Lombardi No. 4.
With the signing of Josh Boyce, the Patriots are now down to just Aaron Dobson and Michael Buchanan as their only unsigned rookies. Both should be done well before training camp, and it's a welcomed change from the days when rookies would hold out well into August.
The Patriots need their young wide receiver to pick things up fast, and it helps to have them in the program early. The sooner Dobson signs, the better.
As for the vets, Michael Jenkins didn't impress. Andy Hart of Patriots.com:
Veteran receiver Michael Jenkins didn’t make a great first impression. With a reputation as a slow-footed route runner, Jenkins also struggled mightily with his hands in the practice. That said, he did get behind the secondary for a long completion during one team drill.
Brady is no stranger to the departure of his closest teammate and friend, but Brady and Welker have defined the Patriots since the 2007 season. They broke records together and established the new "must-have" position for NFL offenses.
Brady wished Welker well:
"That's what happens, this is a, like I said, it's a very tough, competitive business and nobody appreciated Wes more than I did and what he was able to accomplish for our team," he continued. "He's moved on, he's in a good situation with another great team and a great quarterback. We always kind of kept in touch, we always will. He's one of my best friends."
The hype leading up to Welker's return to Foxboro on November 24 should be enormous.
The Patriots always seem to find rookie free agents who make their 53-man roster. The reason? They're extremely aggressive after the final player is selected.
Rookie free agents know they'll get a fair chance to compete in New England, and there should be plenty who do this summer.
The largest individual guarantee among the Patriots undrafted rookie free agents belongs to Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe, who received an $8,000 signing bonus and will receive $22,000 in fully guaranteed base salary regardless of whether or not he makes New England's 53-man roster for a total of $30,000 in guaranteed money. The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Moe excelled in the three-cone drill at the 2013 combine, posting the second-fastest time among all invitees.
Moe is another player to watch in training camp, especially if Amendola gets dinged.
Joe Vellano, a defensive tackle out of Maryland, has an opportunity to make the team with the departures of Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick. Vellano is just the kind of interior penetrator that the Pats have lacked since Mike Wright retired.
It's tough to read too much into what is essentially a walk-through of base offense and defense, but Luke Hughes of NESN.com observed:
Kyle Arrington manned the first team with Talib to open OTAs while Alfonzo Dennard and Dowling manned the second unit — take that as you will.
Indeed. You can understand the team wanting to stick with the veteran who just signed a $4 million contract extension. Dennard will have to earn that starting right cornerback position; it won't just be handed to him simply because he had a solid rookie campaign.
Arrington was their best corner in the AFC championship loss to the Ravens. He'll stick in the starting spot until training camp opens, then all bets are off.
And it's still likely he's back to slot-only duties on opening day. That's where he's best.
The big mystery of the post-draft period of the offseason is how exactly Jamie Collins will be used in the defense.
Belichick acknowledged he'd start at linebacker, but how he'll fit in with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower remains to be seen.
The Patriots are desperate for linebackers who can cover. Christopher Price of WEEI.com writes that Collins' former coaches think he could be the answer to the Pats' problems covering the middle of the field.
I think that when he gets to the NFL, he’ll be able to match up with the tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. Heck, he spent a lot of time matched up on wide receivers when he was here at Southern Miss.
Now it's Greg Cosell of NFLFilms' turn to weigh in after studying Collins. Said Cosell to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe:
“He looks like Tarzan – 6-3 and a half, 250 pounds, and looks the part about as well as you can look,” Cosell said. “But he needs a lot of coaching. He didn’t always play with competitive urgency.”
Collins had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss as a senior at Southern Miss, but “he needs to be trained. He’s not a natural pass rusher, and he needs to learn how to use his hands,” Cosell said.
Collins' primary initial role on defense, be it attacking the quarterback with his explosive athleticism or playing in space and coverage, will be an area to keep an eye on.
The Patriots added an eighth Rutgers player this past week, rookie free-agent wide receiver Mark Harrison. The turnover at the receiver position is in full swing, and it wouldn't be complete without a Rutgers player.
Give Bill Belichick credit for how aggressively he's attacked replacing Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch. It's a great mix of rookies and under-the-radar vets, with the crown jewel Danny Amendola on top.
Harrison is a great fit, and exactly the kind of player the Pats could use on the outside. First, he'll just need to stay healthy, and he'll find a good support network of alumni with the Patriots. Any character concerns arising from the combine hotel room accusations seem to be unnecessary.
Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com followed Harrison closely over the draft process:
It’s not an understatement to say that statistically Mark Harrison had the most impressive 2013 NFL Combine performance of any participant. During February’s combine Mark weighed in at just under 6’3″ tall and 231 lbs. When Harrison posted a 40 yard dash time of 4.46 seconds, a broad jump of 10’9″ and a vertical jump of 38.5 inches, people immediately took notice. A human being as big and heavy as Harrison isn’t supposed to put up those kind of agility numbers.