6 Players Turning Heads at New England Patriots' Training Camp

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

6 Players Turning Heads at New England Patriots' Training Camp

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    New arrivals are making positive impressions for the New England Patriots during training camp. Among them is cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is already showcasing the level of versatility this defense will demand from him.

    On offense, a new wide receiver is demonstrating the kind of application expected of one of quarterback Tom Brady's targets. The example of the standard at this position is being set by Julian Edelman, whose performances have been a camp highlight so far.

    Elsewhere, a pair of reserve defensive linemen did themselves a few favors once the pads came on. Meanwhile, a rookie running back is making every level of the coaching staff acknowledge his versatility and talent.

    Here's a more in-depth look at the Patriots who are turning heads during camp.

Sealver Siliga, DT

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Sealver Siliga is making an impression as a force over the center. The deputy nose tackle has been creating havoc along the interior during one-on-one drills.

    In their observations from Day 4 of camp, ESPN Boston writers Mike Reiss and Lee Schechter noted how Siliga manhandled rookie guard Jon Halapio. Siliga continued to use his strength and tenacity to dominate individual duels on Day 6.

    In another ESPN Boston report, Reiss and Schechter watched Siliga give Patriots centers a hard time:

    Wendell later held his ground against L.T. Tuipulotu and Eathyn Manumaleuna, but had a little struggle with Sealver Siliga, who slipped off his block to penetrate off Wendell’s right shoulder. Wendell’s extensive work tied to the theme of the day – a bit of a spotlight shined on the center position. … Siliga also gave backup Braxston Cave some fits.

    Siliga's performances are an encouraging sight at a position still shrouded in uncertainty due to the health status of several members of the rotation. Rookie Dominique Easley and veteran Tommy Kelly are coming off ACL injuries, while big Vince Wilfork is not long removed from a serious Achilles problem.

    It's the injuries to Wilfork and Kelly that really put Siliga in the spotlight. At 6'2" and 325 pounds, Siliga has the bulk needed to play in place of either veteran and offer the mass in the middle head coach Bill Belichick loves at the heart of his defense.

    Belichick still relies on a true nose tackle in both 3-4 and 4-3 looks. In limited action last season, Siliga proved he can amply occupy that position. He is looking to build on those early showings, according to Howard Ulman of The Berkshire Eagle News.

    After brief stops with the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, Siliga's early camp form offers proof he is determined to stick with the Patriots.

Brandon LaFell, WR

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell will have turned the heads of coaches impressed by his effort in learning a new system. LaFell has been glued to his playbook as he attempts to master the nuances of New England's offense, per NESN.com writer Doug Kyed.

    LaFell's level of commitment is showing up on the practice field, according to Kyed:

    LaFell’s hard work appears to be paying off. He came off his best practice as a member of the Patriots on Tuesday, when he caught two passes during team drills from Tom Brady and beat cornerback Brandon Browner during 1-on-1 drills. Most importantly, LaFell didn’t suffer any drops during Tuesday’s session.

    The Patriots need LaFell to make himself a factor in this passing game. The situation at wide receiver is a similar quicksand to the one at defensive tackle.

    There is quality at the starter and depth level but durability is a major concern. Danny Amendola has struggled to stay healthy, while Aaron Dobson has still not been cleared for contact since his offseason foot surgery, per Boston Herald reporter Jeff Howe.

    It's Dobson's status that puts a lot of focus on LaFell. The New England wide receiver corps needs a legitimate deep threat who can stretch coverage vertically.

    LaFell fits the mold as a player with burning speed who has already caught some deep passes at camp, per Kyed.

Julian Edelman, WR

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    If the Patriots are still searching for answers further down the depth chart, at least the team knows it has a genuine featured receiver to rely on. That player is Julian Edelman, who has thrilled coaches, teammates and fans will some spectacular work during camp.

    Boston.com writer Eric Frenz detailed some of Edelman's best efforts:

    He had a trio of impressive grabs in one-on-one work. On the first, he got away from cornerback Darrelle Revis on an in-route in the back of the end zone, making the grab with Revis right in his hip pocket.

    The next was perhaps the highlight of training camp. Edelman climbed the ladder over cornerback Kyle Arrington in the back corner of the end zone, reaching up with one arm and flexing his bicep around the ball to tuck it away as he fell to the ground.

    Frenz also referenced a deep ball hauled in by Edelman. These examples offer further evidence of the growing versatility of this diminutive playmaker.

    Edelman isn't just restricted to the slot or short-range work. Instead, he is blossoming into a true matchup receiver who can attack defenses at every level.

    Given the question marks surrounding the rest of the receiving corps, the Patriots will need to make greater use of the full scope of Edelman's skills. His brilliance during camp offers encouragement that the 105 receptions he made in 2013, his first season as a recognized, full-time starter, are not going to be a one-off fluke.

Jake Bequette, DE

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    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    The competition for rotational pass-rush work at defensive end is crowded and intense. But one member of the group who has stood out during camp is Jake Bequette.

    The 6'5", 265-pounder has wowed more than one onlooker with strong rush skills in individual drills. On Day 4, ESPN Boston reporters Mike Reiss and Lee Schechter noted how Bequette was varying his rush and using different moves to create pressure:

    One thing that caught the eye was third-year defensive end Jake Bequette using a nice spin move to record a victory over right tackle Cameron Fleming. Bequette, from our view, most often tries to win with a speed rush to the outside, so the spin was an effective change-up.

    The good work continued on Day 6, according to another report from Reiss and Schechter: "Also two strong reps for third-year defensive end Jake Bequette, the second of which he beat Solder on an inside move."

    Both reports highlight the different methods Bequette is trying out to get to the quarterback. An increased repertoire of moves will be a major boost for a player battling Will Smith, Michael Buchanan and rookie Zach Moore for playing time.

    Few coaches in the NFL value defensive flexibility as highly as Belichick. If Bequette continues to prove he's learned a few new tricks, he'll have a great chance of making the final roster.

James White, RB

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Buzz continues to build around rookie running back James White. The fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft had already impressed his new coaches but had them practically giddy with enthusiasm once the pads came on.

    Boston Herald writer Adam Kurkjian reported how White produced solid work with the first team:

    Showing off impressive quickness, short-area change of direction skills and hands, White looked solid in nearly every phase of the workouts, many of which he was involved in with the first team. From 11-on-11 to 7-on-7 to two-minute to individual to goal-line drills, the Patriots used White every which way and he held his own in every capacity.

    Kurkjian's contention about the Pats using White in a variety ways is particularly telling. It speaks to how Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could maximize his versatility in more than just a situational role.

    Belichick has already suggested White has the skills to be used every down, during an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio (h/t ESPN Boston scribe Mike Reiss):

    It’s been good working with James White. He’s a very interesting and versatile player. He does a good job in the passing game and in the running game -- both inside and outside. Blitz pickup -- we have a pretty extensive offense for him to learn, but he’s working hard at it. We’ll just let him go and see how it goes, but I think he has the ability to compete on all three downs, in both the running game and the passing game.

    It's almost as if Belichick is describing a featured back. That's still a long ways off at this point, no matter how impressively White has performed.

    The Patriots still rely on a committee approach in the ground game. That's understandable when considering runners such as Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley are still members of the rotation.

    Of course, fumbling issues have blighted Ridley and Bolden. The latter has been afflicted with the problem during this camp, per Boston Herald reporter Jeff Howe:

    Tough pair of practices for Bolden, who has fumbled twice and had a bad drop. Had fumble issues in his rookie training camp.

    — Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) July 25, 2014

    Meanwhile, if the Pats need a definite third-down option, Vereen is the more obvious choice. He has been getting most of the work as a pass-catcher during camp and remains the best fit for the role, per Boston Herald writer Karen Guregian:

    Of the backs, he’s still their best option on passing downs for several reasons. He’s had the most experience with Brady, he’s very good at catching the football, he’s got some wheels, and he’s the best at blitz pickup and protection. He’s banking on his versatility to help the cause.

    However, White is a more superior natural rusher to Vereen. Given the issues both Ridley and Bolden have had with ball-handling, it's not out of the realm of possibility to believe White can soon become the workhorse of choice in New England.

Darrelle Revis, CB

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Darrelle Revis has been proving why the Patriots are so excited about his arrival. During the early days of camp, Revis bossed proceedings against Brady and his best receiver, according to NESN.com writer Doug Kyed:

    Revis schooled Brady and Edelman on two deep passes — one in 1-on-1 drills and the other in 11-on-11s. Revis picked off Brady twice on attempts to Edelman — a connection that’s usually difficult to contain in Patriots practices. Revis also swatted a Brady pass intended for receiver Brandon LaFell in 11-on-11s.

    Of course, Revis can be expected to shut down wide receivers, especially on the outside. He's been thriving in that capacity throughout his career.

    However, the more interesting aspect of Revis' work at camp occurred during a recent low-key workout with Rob Gronkowski. Revis was chosen as the man who would cover Gronkowski as the big tight end accelerates his return to fitness, per CSNNE reporter Phil Perry:

    That's why it opened some eyes when Patriots coach Bill Belichick motioned to Darrelle Revis to cover Gronkowski while the tight end ran routes for Tom Brady in a side session. It appeared as though Gronk's first test was going to be administered by New England's best cover man.

    As it turned out, that wasn't really the case. Revis went little more than half speed -- just sticking close to Gronkowski, not trying to break up passes -- and didn't play his typical physical brand of defense.

    Although Revis went slow, the fact he was chosen to shadow Gronkowski at all, could have interesting implications for this season's defense. It immediately reminded this writer of Belichick using ex-shutdown cornerback Aqib Talib to cover dynamic New Orleans Saints "move" tight end Jimmy Graham in Week 6 last season.

    Belichick could have been watching Revis as much as much as he wanted a view of Gronkowski's progress. The issue becomes more prevalent when you consider some of the quality tight ends on the Patriots' schedule this season.

    The team will encounter Denver Broncos ace Julius Thomas, as well as San Diego Chargers pair Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. There's also Indianapolis Colts duo Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen to consider.

    Obviously, Revis wasn't brought to New England to cover tight ends. But given the increasing matchup problems roving "Jokers" at the position are presenting to defenses, a physical cover man like Revis gives the Pats a schematic edge.

    It's worth keeping a note of how often Revis works with Gronkowski during the remainder of camp.

    There's plenty of encouragement for the Patriots from the early stages of camp. Solid performances from rotational players along the front seven are very welcome when considering the injury situation in that area.

    Offensively, White's showings could be the early glimpses of a new weapon opponents hadn't counted on as they begin their annual attempt to find an answer to Brady's brilliance.