New England Patriots OTA Standouts Worth Keeping an Eye on This Offseason
The New England Patriots have hardly peeled the grass out of their cleats following their first open practice of organized team activities (OTAs), but some players are already beginning to separate themselves from the pack.
Make no mistake; it's the first week of practice, and there's still a long way to go before anyone begins to carve his name in stone as a starter at his position. Likewise, now is not a time for the coaching staff to be evaluating performance; rather, now is a time for teaching new concepts and schematic tendencies to help get players up to speed.
Now is not a time for pieces to fit together, but only for those pieces to take shape.
With several prominent players missing from the Patriots' first practice, some backups had a chance to shine. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell, cornerback Malcolm Butler and linebackers Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower were among the players absent from practice.
Who stepped up in their stead?
Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are entrenched as the Patriots' top three wide receivers on the depth chart. With LaFell absent from practice, though, Aaron Dobson was one of a couple of receivers (along with Brian Tyms) who earned some increased reps.
Dobson looked good in the Patriots' first session of OTAs. He didn't drop any passes and didn't appear to be hindered at all by the hamstring injury that ended his 2014 season.
This is a big year for Dobson, who dealt with several injuries (hamstring and foot) that kept him out of practice during the offseason and kept him off the field during the season. He battled through drops as a rookie in 2013 to finish with solid numbers (37 catches, 519 yards, four touchdowns) but fell hard due to those injuries (three receptions for 38 yards in 2014).
A clean bill of health, along with some increased rapport with Tom Brady, could be Dobson's ticket to a breakout third year.
Tom Brady will appeal his four-game suspension on June 23, according to Albert Breer of NFL Media (via Conor Orr of NFL.com), but until then, the Patriots must prepare to be without their starting quarterback for the first month of the season.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got opportunities and split reps with Brady. That gave him a chance to show off his signature footwork and quick release that made him such an intriguing prospect to the Patriots in the first place.
Garoppolo was impressive, finishing the session 7-of-11 in seven-on-seven drills and 8-of-11 in 11-on-11 work. He also showed off some nice arm strength and velocity on his throws, threading the needle on a few passes over the middle.
This first session should not be taken as any indication that Garoppolo will overtake Brady as the starter, but instead should be viewed as a solid foundation for Garoppolo to continue improving this offseason in preparation to keep the Patriots afloat for up to four games.
It's a good thing Brandon Spikes and Bill Belichick "kissed and made up," as Spikes put it; if they hadn't, who knows who would have been taking reps at linebacker in practice on Friday.
With Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins all absent from practice, Spikes was by far the most experienced linebacker remaining on the roster, and he was also the one who earned the most opportunities to play in the Patriots' first session of OTAs.
Spikes participated in almost every drill and seemingly never left the field. He didn't make a lot of splash plays, but that's not what OTAs are all about, anyway. His presence on the field was the most important thing, as it assured the Patriots that they will have a veteran who can step in if any of their three top linebackers are unable to play at any point and for any length of time.
No Darrelle Revis plus no Brandon Browner (plus no Kyle Arrington plus no Alfonzo Dennard) equals more young cornerbacks than the Patriots have put on the field at the same time in a long time.
Logan Ryan is one of the Patriots’ most experienced cornerbacks with only two years on their roster, and the 24-year-old looks poised for one of the top spots on the depth chart due to the massive amount of attrition.
With Malcolm Butler absent from practice on Friday, Ryan was on the field early and often. At some point, that competition could heat up with a lot of young players vying for their opportunity to start in the Patriots defense; he’ll eventually be competing with Butler, Daxton Swanson (who also saw a lot of reps), Bradley Fletcher, rookie Darryl Roberts and others.
For now, Ryan appears to be firmly on the coaching staff’s radar.
Unless otherwise noted, all OTA notes, observations and quotes obtained firsthand.