New England Patriots: Recapping the Latest Buzz Heading into Training Camp
Training camp is nearly here. The long winter following the NFL draft is starting to break, followed by the tangy smell of fresh-cut grass, the sight of newly chalked lines and the smell of charcoal.
The fans' sensory overload is nothing compared to what the rookies and other newcomers to Foxboro will encounter when they report for practice on July 24.
Here are five buzz-worthy tidbits to keep fans sated until their team takes the field.
Aaron Dobson's Foot Healing
Just as Aaron Dobson was beginning to hit his stride after an uneven first half to his rookie season, injuries halted the young receiver's momentum. A stress fracture in his foot limited him in the playoffs and has kept him out of OTAs so far this offseason.
However, things seem to be trending in a positive direction. Dobson spoke with Adam Kurkjian of the Boston Herald and was hopeful about being ready for the onset of training camp:
It was tough having to watch it, you know, not being able to be a part of my team and being able to practice. But I definitely just stayed in tune as far as watching the film and plays. I still try to keep myself into it and not let myself ... because that happens when guys get injured.
You know, they just kind of venture off and do their own thing. But I stayed close with everybody, talked with everybody. So I feel like my process is good and I'm still on the right track. I've just got to build off last year.
It's not a death knell for the season if Dobson misses the first week or two of camp, but with a crowded group, talent-wise, at the position, he can't afford to rest on his laurels too long.
Jimmy Graham Possible Target?
Jimmy Graham was designated as a franchise player by the New Orleans Sainst this offseason, which always seems to bring out trade rumors. Ed Werder from ESPN.com dropped the New England Patriots as one of the possible teams that could be interested in swinging a deal:
One thing for certain, according to league sources, is that the decision makes Graham more attractive to other teams around the league that might consider making an offer. Any team signing Graham would have to surrender two first-round picks to the Saints if they chose not to match.
The teams likeliest to consider that would be those that believe they'll be drafting in the Nos. 27-32 range next year, making the Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts teams to watch.
As has happened before—think Matt Cassel—two first-round picks aren't necessarily a requisite if both teams are wanting a trade to happen. The Saints' cap situation looks pretty dire moving forward—Drew Brees counts for over $26 million himself in 2015—they may want to start rebuilding their offense with some cheaper parts.
I can't see Bill Belichick moving two first-round selections for Graham, but one might be palatable to a team that has a certain need at the tight end position.
NFC East Teams Will Serve as Training Camp Foes
Prior to their respective preseason games, the New England Patriots will conduct practice sessions with the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. Doug Kyed from NESN.com has some of the details:
The Patriots are holding joint practices with the Washington Redskins from Aug. 4 to 6 in Richmond, Va., leading up to their Aug. 7 preseason game. The Patriots held joint practices with the Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers last summer.
The joint sessions allow the Patriots to see some different competition in a practice setting. The practices usually are held early in the summer before a complete game plan and playbook have been assembled.
Seeing new faces, techniques, plays and formations is key to the development of young players and veterans alike. The Eagles and Redskins—with Chip Kelly's innovation and Robert Griffin III's improvisation—will give the Patriots plenty of new looks.
Belichick obviously has an affinity for joint practices, so don't expect them to go away anytime soon.
Patriots Have No. 1 Secondary?
I once posited that the New England Patriots—not the Seattle Seahawks—will have the NFL's best secondary in 2014. The backlash—even from Patriots fans—was particularly brutal, saying the new secondary put together by Belichick has yet to play a down.
That doesn't mean it won't be great. Randy Moss caught a total of zero preseason passes before torching the NFL in his record-breaking season.
K.C. Joyner from ESPN.com (subscription required) sees some merit in that argument:
After holding the highest-scoring offense in NFL history to only eight points in Super Bowl XLVIII, there is little doubt the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom ended last season as the best secondary in the NFL.
With Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas signed to long-term contract extensions, it would seem that this group is poised to keep that title for a long time.
However, that title reign may come to a close much sooner than expected, due to a strong challenge from the New England Patriots.
When the offseason acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner are added to the other personnel changes made in Seattle and New England, a strong case can be made that the Patriots will have the best secondary in the NFL in 2014 -- not the Seahawks.
Proving what some see on paper true is easier said than done. However, if the Patriots want to get past Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the playoffs, the secondary will have to be spectacular.
Jamie Collins Tapped as Breakout Candidate
You can't pigeonhole Jamie Collins. Is he a pass-rusher? A coverage linebacker? A run-stopper? All three? When you have his ridiculous athleticism, he can truly do it all.
Fans of the New England Patriots have already drank the Kool-Aid, but the national media seems to be jumping on the Collins-hype train this offseason as well.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com pens a fitting tribute to Collins' skill set:
Jamie Collins is a cornerback trapped in a 250-pound body. While most linebackers are forced into pass coverage duties, Collins looks at home on an island.
As a rookie, Collins played inside and outside linebacker. He lined up at defensive end occasionally to rush the passer, and could blitz up the middle. Moving forward is typical of a guy his size, but it's not typical to see the same player line up one-on-one outside the numbers against receivers, and win.
Bill Belichick has found a new sort of prototype. Nearly 30 years removed from establishing what NFL teams look for in a 3-4 linebacker, Collins is the right player for this era.
If Collins continues to develop, he could become the Swiss Army knife Adalius Thomas never turned out to be.