Patriots OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis

James ChristensenContributor IMay 26, 2014

Patriots OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis

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    Jimmy Garoppolo is already paying dividends.
    Jimmy Garoppolo is already paying dividends.Steven Senne/Associated Press

    With the NFL draft in the books, all eyes turn to the next phase of the offseason as the New England Patriots meet for their first round of organized team activities. Bill Belichick will lead practice May 27, 29 and 30 this week.

    While these practices won't factor heavily into who earns a starting job in September, they hold a great deal of importance. Matt Bowen from Bleacher Report explains:

    Individual periods are extended in the offseason with footwork, mechanics, eye placement, hands, etc. becoming the main focus as veterans work on their craft.

    This is the time to improve from the previous season in the film room on those key technique areas during drills.

    Unlike the regular-season practices where game prep takes precedence and individual periods are reduced, the OTA workouts give the vets the opportunity to practice and study their technique.

    Here are four players who hope to get something positive out of the next couple of weeks and two who—unfortunately—won't be able to.

Jimmy Garoppolo Leading Already

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Garoppolo has been walking up to rookies at Gillette, shouting a play call and asking them if they know their assignments. Leading already.

    — Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) May 15, 2014

    Leading rookies is one thing. How Jimmy Garoppolo responds to being in charge of a huddle littered with Pro Bowlers is on a different level.

    If Ryan Mallett is on his way out—either this year or the next seems likely—Garoppolo will be one play away from being the starting quarterback for the Patriots. He was supposed to sit for a year or two in college as well, but he ended up being inserted as a freshman and played in eight games.

    Barring two injuries, Garoppolo probably won't see the field during a regular-season game. However, if his number is called, don't count him out.

Chandler Jones Building Foundation

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Chandler Jones finished the 2013 season with 11.5 sacks and 79 tackles, equal—on paper anyway—with all-world defensive lineman J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, who racked up 10.5 sacks and 80 tackles.

    Despite a statistically impressive season, Jones was anything but satisfied. He redoubled his efforts in the weight room during the spring. 

    Mike Reiss from ESPN.com relates these tidbits from Jones on his lower-body work this offseason:

    I feel like if I can get my legs stronger, and get it equal with my upper body, I'll be more proportional and it will help me with my game a lot -- pass rush and run-stopping ability.

    ...

    Without your legs, you're not anything ... Stronger legs definitely generates more power and more speed.

    While we won't see Jones hitting quarterbacks for another couple of months, perhaps him hitting the weight room will be contagious in New England.

Ryan Mallett Not Going Anywhere

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    It was almost taken for granted that Ryan Mallett would be traded once Jimmy Garoppolo was selected by the Patriots. However, nothing materialized during the 2014 NFL draft.

    Take it with however much salt you wish, but according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Bill Belichick stated that Mallett isn't going anywhere:

    It's not really something that we're that interested in. Ryan's done a good job for us. Fortunately for our team, maybe unfortunately for Ryan, he hasn't really had any playing time in the last three years. But he's improved tremendously as a quarterback and as a football player. We have a lot of confidence in him. He's in the last year of a contract.

    Look for Mallett to use experience to his advantage during OTAs. Having three years in the system—compared to a couple of days for Garoppolo—should be plenty to start the process of solidifying himself as Tom Brady's backup.

Dont'a Hightower Stepping Up on Defense

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Dont'a Hightower, like Garoppolo, will want to continue to develop his leadership role as well as his football technique during practice. He was charged with leading the defense at times in 2013, but he wasn't always up to the task.

    He is ready to make this year different. Erik Frenz of Boston.com touched on Hightower's expanded role, with the former Alabama standout given the responsibility of the "green dot" helmet in Jerod Mayo's absence, meaning he received the play calls from coaches and dictated them to his team:

    'I think I just finally got comfortable,' he said. 'I wasn't asked to do that my first year, and then to lose a lot of leadership on the team, I haven't been asked to do anything like that since college. At first, it was a little shaky, and I was a little nervous, but all the guys are still behind me, and they talked me through it, and eventually, I started playing better and then I feel like we all started playing better.'

    With Mayo back on the field, it will be very interesting to see whether Hightower spends much time with the green dot on his helmet this offseason. Devin McCourty is another name that you'll hear floated around for the position.

Aaron Dobson and Rob Gronkowski Not Yet Available

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Two players whom New England will be without during OTAs are Aaron Dobson and Rob Gronkowski. Dobson is still recovering from a stress fracture in his foot, while Gronkowski's knee is still healing.

    If healthy, both players are integral parts of the Patriots offense. Dobson's size and speed—at 100 percent—were game-changers in the latter part of the season. Gronkowski is only the league's best all-around tight end.

    While Dobson and Gronkowski suffer, the Patriots might be better off in the long run.

    Receiver is a crowded position. Taking a likely starter out of the equation will give some of the depth players—think Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell—a bigger opportunity to show what they can do.

    Tight end is exactly the opposite. There are few true options behind Gronkowski. Belichick is certainly loathe to rely on Gronkowski's health this season, so getting an extended look at his possible replacements can't hurt.