The Patriots got underway on Friday.
Training camp got underway for the New England Patriots last week under rainy skies, officially kicking off the 2013 campaign.
There are a number of fascinating positional battles this summer in New England, including a collection of free-agent and rookie receivers tasked with replacing Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez. While Rob Gronkowski remains sidelined recovering from offseason back surgery, there are opportunities for some new tight ends to emerge as well.
Here's a collection of the best pics from the first few days of camp, along with updates on how things are coming together for Bill Belichick's latest edition.
Tom Brady is back for his 14th season with the Patriots. The coaching staff is using cameras secured to the quarterbacks' helmets this summer, likely to help study vision discipline and evaluate the speed and decisiveness of the quarterbacks' reads after the snap.
The Patriots are always looking for an edge, and this one will give the coaches another way to help evaluate and improve the quarterbacks.
Danny Amendola has been as-advertised so far in training camp. He's gaining the trust of his new teammates, and has been Tom Brady's favorite receiver in the early days of camp, even winning an offseason award for his dedication.
With the total turnover at the receiver spot, the Patriots need Amendola to be a reliable threat, week in and week out. With just a handful of practices under his belt, it looks like Amendola might be on the verge of becoming a major NFL star.
So far, Tim Tebow has been in the background. Yes, he's caught some passes, but he's also had some passes intercepted. Pat Kirwan thinks Tebow is a roster-lock, and Bill Belichick expressed confidence in all three of the Pats' quarterbacks.
Tebow might be able to contribute in some different ways than a traditional third quarterback, and the Patriots will give him a chance to show what he can do. But for now, the most important thing for him is showing improvement as a quarterback.
Second-round pick Jamie Collins.
Jamie Collins has been used in a number of roles, both in coverage and rushing the passer. He's been subbing for Brandon Spikes, allowing Dont'a Hightower to slide to the middle, putting Collins on the strong side to deal with the tight end.
It looks like Collins could definitely become another significant member of the linebacker rotation, with a specialty for passing downs. If he can bring quality coverage in the middle of the field, he could mark a major improvement for the Patriots defense.
Second-round pick Aaron Dobson.
The Patriots needed to hit on some wide receivers in the draft and in the first four days of camp, they've had three who have flashed potential. Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson have all had time with the top offense, and all have had their moments and impressed teammates.
Dobson had a dominant Saturday practice, fueling an early buzz around him that he could be a big part of the offense this season right out of the gate. It's still early, but it looks like the Pats might've finally found some young receiving weapons.
It's a big preseason for Ryan Mallett, who will enter the final year of his rookie deal next offseason. If he wants to entice teams to make a trade for him, this summer will be the time to do so. He figures to see less time in the preseason than previous seasons, given Tom Brady is trying to break in some new receivers. Mallet must make the most of his opportunities.
Bill Belichick told Sirius XM NFL Radio this about Mallett:
Ryan’s improved every year. This is his third season and we’ve seen a lot of progress from him in this spring and thus far in training camp as well. It looks like he’s very focused, ready to go, his throwing mechanics and techniques are good. His accuracy is good. He reads defenses and coverages. I think he’s continued to make a jump forward in his progression as a football player.
After an offseason spent training in Florida, Brandon Spikes is back on the field for the Patriots, manning his middle linebacker starting spot in the base defense. In the early days of camp, Spikes has been coming off the field for Jamie Collins to give the Pats a better pass defense, while Dont'a Hightower slides into Spikes' spot in the middle.
The Patriots needed to address the pass coverage from their linebackers, and with Spikes entering a contract year, it appears his chances to prove he's improved his coverage skills will be limited.
Head coach Bill Belichick.
Bill Belichick is back for his 14th season with the New England Patriots, with a young defense that returns almost completely intact from last season. Belichick's rebuild of the defense began in full force in 2009 and now features a collection of highly drafted players who have accrued multiple seasons together.
The Patriots' dynasty defense of the 2000s peaked after falling short in the late-90s. Belichick's new defense should hit its stride this season.
Chandler Jones added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and has been impressive early in training camp, including a diving interception on the first day. The Patriots need Jones to back up the potential he flashed early in 2012, before injuries derailed his promising start.
He figures to be a core member of the defense, where his length and athleticism should make him a force for opposing offenses to game-plan around.
Wilfork is the key cog for the Patriots defense and should get some help this season with the mountainous Tommy Kelly lined up inside next to him. With offenses less able to focus solely on blocking Wilfork inside, it should free him from double-teams and allow him to make more plays than ever.
Despite coming off an arrest earlier this month, Alfonzo Dennard has been a standout in the early days of camp. Dennard was the most consistent cornerback on the Patriots last season and appears to be benefiting from dropping some weight in the offseason.
Dennard could still face a suspension from the NFL, but whenever he makes it back on the field for the Patriots, it should give them a boost.
Dennard was the star of the second day of Patriots training camp practice, coming away with an interception over Josh Boyce and a pass breakup over Aaron Dobson. Dennard was playing outside and inside on the first team. He was mostly working in the nickel Friday but took extensive snaps in the base defense Saturday.
Stevan Ridley had two fumbles in practice on Sunday, picking up where he left off last season. He took penalty laps for both. Ridley has had late-season ball security issues his first two years in the NFL, and the recurrence of the problem early in training camp is a reminder it's an area of his game that must be improved.