New England Patriots: Top Position Battles to Watch in Camp
The New England Patriots' training camp annually features some of the fiercest roster battles in the entire NFL. Through this crucible comes a roster forged in the heat of competition, knowing the best players have made the team.
With cheap rookie labor now the bricks on which championships are built, established veterans will be looking over their shoulders now more than ever. Regardless of whether it is a veteran or rookie getting cut, talented players will be hitting the open market.
For those who love a fight, here are five positions to keep an eye on.
Options: Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell, Jeremy Gallon
The main event. The premier matchup. The battle for the fourth receiver position behind Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will be fierce. It may come down to who can bring something unique to the equation.
Jeremy Gallon has rare vision and route-running ability, but the New England Patriots already have Edelman and Amendola to fill the role of slot receiver.
Kenbrell Thompkins has a knack for the big play—just ask the New Orleans Saints. However, his maddeningly inconsistent technique—why is he always leaving his feet?—can't sit well with Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels.
Brandon LaFell can play anywhere—"X", "Z", slot, even "Move" tight end—but he doesn't have a single trait that makes a coach take notice. The depth that he is able to bring to the table, however, is phenomenal. If any receiver goes down, LaFell can step in and take over without missing a beat.
That leaves us with Josh Boyce. He has a unique trait in his all-world speed. No one else in New England can take a top off the defense like Boyce. Give him too much of a cushion and he'll make you pay with the short screen. Play him too tight and you better hope you have safety help.
If Boyce is healthy in 2014, there is no reason that he can't win the job.
Verdict: Josh Boyce
Lead Running Back
Options: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White
Stevan Ridley can only blame himself for not securing his starting spot long ago. Unfortunately, putting the ball on the ground eight teams over the last two seasons will prevent Bill Belichick from placing too much trust in you. That said, he is the most decisive and powerful inside the numbers.
If the fumbling problems persist, Shane Vereen would be next in line for additional carries. However, he isn't well-suited to blasting the ball inside for more than a few carries per game.
Rookie James White, however, may be able to pick up the slack in case Ridley fails to impress. White has good vision and agility as well as having skills in the passing game. With Ridley and Vereen in the final year of the their rookie contracts, expect White to get a lot of chances to show what he can do.
Verdict: Stevan Ridley
"Move" Tight End
Options: Brandon LaFell, Asa Watson, James Develin, Dustin Keller
Aaron Hernandez isn't walking through that door. The New England Patriots need to find a way to replace part of his production, but they can't get hung up on replacing his skill set.
LaFell and Asa Watson are interesting options that could work out due to their size, speed and agility, but the trust just isn't there yet with Brady. Both are limited in the blocking department as well.
James Develin—truly a fullback—filled the role admirably at times in 2013. He can run routes—a bit slow, but he gets the job done—is a good blocker and can be motioned into the backfield at will. If a free agent like Dustin Keller isn't signed, I think Develin gets the majority of reps.
Verdict: James Develin or Dustin Keller
Options: Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork
Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted to be the future quarterback of the New England Patriots. Bryan Stork was drafted to be the future quarterback of the offensive line. The latter might get his chance a few years before the former.
Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly are getting old and expensive, leaving the door wide open for Stork to walk through. If he can stay healthy throughout camp and builds a rapport with Brady, he has the talent to win the job.
Even if Stork can't beat out Wendell or Connolly, I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them released before Week 1 due to cap considerations
Verdict: Bryan Stork
Options: Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner
Darrelle Revis and one of the trio of Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan will be manning the cornerback positions for the New England Patriots this year. Devin McCourty will be the free safety. The spot alongside him is currently up for grabs.
Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner have made some opportunistic plays on defense, but their main contributions have occurred on special teams. Pat Chung—also a special teams star—had his moments as a Patriot, but he will need to show newfound consistency to win the starting job.
That leaves Duron Harmon. All he did as a rookie was come in and fail to make glaring errors. He didn't make impact plays on a consistent basis, but he won't need to with this talented secondary. Harmon exemplifies Belichick's mantra of "Do your job."
Verdict: Duron Harmon