Rounding Up the Latest Offseason Buzz Surrounding Patriots
The Patriots have had a remarkable offseason, with the departure of Wes Welker and the rest of the receiving corps as the headline. Danny Amendola now must play a critical role in New England's re-vamped offense, and gone is Danny Woodhead's reliability, especially in the passing game.
On defense, the Pats will finally have some continuity, and there's hope that can help solve some of the problems in the passing game they've had in recent seasons. New addition Adrian Wilson has already made an impression and could help settle a secondary in need of an enforcer.
As we enter the longest period of the NFL season with minimal news, here's a look at all the latest developments from the end of minicamp.
Undrafted Rookie Kenbrell Thompkins Taking Advantage
The wide receiver turnover of 2013 will be one of the most interesting chapters of Tom Brady's career, and this spring he's had a collection of new faces to throw the ball to.
While draft picks Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce have been on the sideline nursing minor injuries, it's opened the door to other receivers, and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has taken advantage of the opportunity.
Thompkins has been getting reps with the first team over veteran free-agent acquisition Donald Jones, and has demonstrated strong hands and the ability to work in traffic.
The Patriots' coaches don't care how players get to Foxboro, all get a blank slate once they arrive. If Thompkins continues his consistency, he just might find himself playing over players drafted above him and with more experience.
Brandon Spikes Makes a Foxboro Appearance
After missing voluntary OTA workouts, Brandon Spikes made an appearance in Foxboro for mini-camp and downplayed his absence. According to Seth Lakso of The Boston Globe, Spikes said:
I mean you guys know me. I frequently do things a little bit different from everybody else, I don’t think they’re bad, or a shocker. Honestly, if everybody in the world was a conformist, it would be one boring place.
Spikes is entering a contract year and will be looking to prove to the Patriots and the rest of the NFL that he is a three-down linebacker.
Still, when you're the only player on a 90-man roster who is not in town, it certainly doesn't reflect well on you, and Spikes spent some time on the sideline watching Dane Fletcher on the opening day of minicamp.
There's no denying Spikes is a physical force in the middle of the Patriots defense. If he can improve his play-action reaction, he could have multiple interceptions this season. That is just what the Pats and Spikes both need, and if he makes plays like that it won't matter where he was in April and May.
Ras-I Dowling Makes It Through OTAs Healthy!
After standout performances through OTAs and minicamp, it seems Ras-I Dowling is finally healthy and consistently making plays on the ball.
Dowling's hip surgery in 2011 was a bigger deal than most realized, and he was still recovering in 2012. The stiffness he was still experiencing likely led to the injury that ended his 2012 year as well.
But now Dowling looks healthy and loose, and he has been making notable plays on the ball every time the reporters have been able to watch practice. Could the 2011 33rd-overall pick be ready to live up to his lofty draft status this season? The Patriots are certainly hoping so.
Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington all return from their starting roles at the end of the season, but Dowling's presence gives them another long-bodied corner who can play on the outside and match up against tall receivers.
Dowling's next goal? To keep up the good play and stay healthy through camp. Then we'll start getting excited.
Logan Ryan Fitting in
Speaking of quality cornerback depth, the knock on Logan Ryan coming out of Rutgers was that while he had the savvy and brains to play in the NFL, he didn't have the elite speed to be a top corner prospect.
But so far in camp, Ryan has shown he's able to keep up. Field Yates of ESPN Boston observed:
Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan had a strong day, picking off a pass and breaking up another. The rap on Ryan based off of draft research was that he lacked top end speed. In watching him today, it felt as though he was always just fast enough to stick with whichever wide receiver he was covering. He has good length, too.
Ryan and Dowling are the wild cards in the secondary this season. With the number of injuries that always seem to pile up, you can never have too many good corners.
Despite starting off near the bottom of the depth chart, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Ryan play a significant role this season.
Zach Sudfeld Getting Chances as Gronk Fill-in
Another rookie free agent on offense who has stood out consistently is tight end Zach Sudfeld. With Rob Gronkowski out recovering from his various surgeries and Jake Ballard still easing his way back in, Sudfeld has gotten a number of opportunities to play with Tom Brady, and he hasn't disappointed.
Field Yates of ESPN Boston likes what he's seen out of Sudfeld:
Sudfeld has good size (6-7, 250), runs well, and seemed to catch everything in his direction. He maintained a consistency from start to finish that bodes well for him come training camp. From a pure pass-catching perspective, there seemed to be a lot of positives over the last four weeks. When the pads come on, his blocking will be put to the test.
There's always room on Bill Belichick's roster for a monster tight end who can run, and Sudfeld is cut exactly from the Gronk mold. The Pats have a versatile stable of tight ends, and once all of them are healthy it will be fascinating to see how they're all employed.
Marcus Cannon Taking First-Team Guard Reps
For two years, the consensus outside of Foxboro has been that Marcus Cannon's best NFL fit is at guard. Cannon had a solid season in 2012, serving as reserve right tackle, but now in 2013 Cannon has been seeing time at right guard while Dan Connolly recovers from an injury.
While Cannon could potentially push Connolly for the starting position, Dante Scarnecchia told Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston that he saw it simply as a way to add more value to Cannon:
What we’re doing in OTAs with him at guard is trying to get this guy to make himself as valuable a player as we can, and valuable for us. We have five starters and if we lose a guy we have to have a guy that is capable of getting in there and doing a great job. So we want to train him at guard, and we’re going to give him more tackle work as we go forward in this minicamp.
Cannon has freakish size and movement skills, and that's what makes him so intriguing at guard. Connolly was solid but unspectacular at the position in 2012, and fans will continue to wonder if Cannon could elevate the Pats interior line.
Amendola Developing Chemistry with Brady
Perhaps the most vital thing for the Patriots offense this offseason was for Tom Brady to begin to develop some chemistry with his new wide receivers, specifically veteran Danny Amendola, the most experienced and talented of all the new faces.
The good news is that Brady and Amendola seem to have a growing connection. It was most visible when Amendola made a site-adjustment to a route that won Brady's praise. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald observed:
From across the field, Tom Brady’s short completion to Danny Amendola seemed like a routine play at yesterday’s minicamp practice. Brady took the snap in 11-on-11 work, peered right and quickly buzzed the ball into Amendola’s hands as the slot receiver found a spot in an open zone, gaining a handful of yards. No big deal, it seemed, until Brady got fired up about the job Amendola did to dissect the coverage at the same speed as Brady and run the route to get open. It’s that timing and quick thinking that make receivers successful with Brady, and the quarterback was ecstatic after the play.
Brady and Amendola should be a devastating combo if they can get on the same page, and it seems like their work this spring is starting to pay off.
The true test will be in game situations, but the Pats need Amendola to be their new Wes Welker, and anything less will result in the offense regressing from their continued dominance of the last decade.
Tim Tebow Is Now the the Third-String Quarterback
It seemed inevitable all along that the Patriots woulds sign Tim Tebow, and now that it's happened, it should be fun to watch. Belichick's first press conference gave any disillusioned media member a crash course in how easily he can shut down any unwanted hype.
Who knows if Tebow will even make the team, but he'll be given a fair chance to compete for a role, and it will be fun to watch him compete in preseason to win that role.
He'll start out solely at quarterback, how much more he can handle outside of that will be up to him. The Jets never got creative with Tebow, but Josh McDaniels and Belichick will surely cook something up that maximizes what Tebow does well.
And if it doesn't work out, they'll be perfectly happy to go with just Brady and Ryan Mallet.