By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After an offseason filled with drama, the Patriots are ready for some football.READ MORE: North Shore Loses Trees, Power During Damaging Nor'easter
All of them, too.
Though their absences during New England’s voluntary sessions caused much of the drama surrounding the Patriots throughout the spring, both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will get back to work when mandatory minicamp kicks off at Gillette Stadium Tuesday morning. That’s the big highlight of the day, but there are plenty of other storylines to follow down at Gillette Stadium.
Keeping in mind that there is no hitting (or helmets or pads) during minicamp, here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Patriots hit the field Tuesday through Thursday.
Brady & Gronk Report To Duty
Brady and Gronk are back with the Patriots, and all will be right in the world. Right? Most likely, though we can’t rule out some lingering sadness down in Foxboro.
Brady was slinging footballs everywhere but Gillette Stadium this offseason, and looked like his usual self no matter the setting. We’ll see if he’s his usual dominant self with defenders aiming to make a name for themselves by picking him off. But it will be most intriguing to see how long it takes for Brady and his new targets to get on the same page. He’s touted offseason workouts as valuable opportunities to lay the groundwork for the season ahead, and he’s behind in that sense this year.
As for Gronk, we’ll see how long it takes for him to embarrass some rookie defensive back. That will likely happen early, and often.
The most interesting part of their returns will be how Bill Belichick uses them. Will he send them out with the first-teamers, or scold them for their previous absences and send them out with backups? It will also be interesting to see if they still get the bulk of the snaps, or if Belichick gives those to players who have been in Foxboro for every workout. Are we in for Brian Hoyer-led offensive drills this week? How exciting.
Will Brady Talk?
Brady hasn’t talked to the media since the moments following Super Bowl LII. A lot has changed since then, and there are plenty of questions to ask about his offseason. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to talk on Tuesday. Not that he would say much anyways, but skipping out on a quick chat with reporters (which he is not obligated to do during minicamp) wouldn’t help extinguish any of the offseason fires burning around the team.
It’d be nice if Brady (or Belichick) would squash any talk of a beef between the two, but don’t expect that, either. Maybe we’ll get a staged handshake or bro hug during Tuesday’s stretching sessions, but don’t expect much more.READ MORE: Nor'easter Rips Part Of Roof Off Quincy Apartment Building
Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola are gone, and at the moment, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan are the only real locks to make the roster at wide receiver (plus special teams captain Matthew Slater, who slots in as a receiver on the depth chart). Elsewhere, newcomers Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson and rookie Braxton Berrios will look to fit in with Brady now throwing them footballs, with holdovers Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Mitchell trying to prove they belong. Practice squaders Cody Hollister and Riley McCarron are also in the mix, meaning there will be 11 guys fighting for six or seven roster spots.
Other Roster Battles
Receiver is the most intriguing position to watch during camp, but there will be plenty of other roster battles. We still don’t know who will be protecting Brady’s blindside, whether it’s Marcus Cannon (sliding over from the right side), Joe Thuney, rookie Isaiah Wynn or gigantic newcomer Trent Brown.
At running back, James White, Rex Burkhead and rookie Sony Michel will all be battling for catches as New England’s primary receiving back, looking to replace part of what they’ll miss with Dion Lewis’ departure. Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill will likely be duking it out for a job in the Patriots backfield.
Stephon Gilmore is the Patriots’ only lock at corner (considering he’ll take over the No. 1 role from the departed Malcolm Butler), with Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and draft picks Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen all possibilities for slots on the depth chart. We also can’t forget about Cyrus Jones, though he’ll probably see most of his time on special teams (if he sees time at all).
And we can’t forget about the biggest and most important battle on the New England roster this spring/summer: Punter. Yes, punter. The Patriots brought in Corey Bojorquez from the undrafted free agent pool, and he’ll be competing with incumbent Ryan Allen for the starting gig. Bojorquez and his big left boot could do to Allen when he did to Zoltan Mesko just five years ago.
After missing all of last season with a knee injury, receiver Malcolm Mitchell will have a big spotlight on him this spring and summer. He showed lots of potential as a rookie in New England’s Super Bowl LI comeback win, but health has always been his biggest concern. With big collection of receivers in camp, it’s important for him to stay healthy to keep his spot on the roster.
In the secondary, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones are all coming off season-ending injuries. This is a monster camp for Cyrus Jones, even if he was a second-round pick just two years ago. When he was playing, he struggled on defense and in the return game, and he’s in serious jeopardy of being cut early in his career if he doesn’t show signs of putting it all together. That’s a shame, too, because he’s kind of important since Danny Amendola is no longer around to catch punts.
Derek Rivers is also worth keeping a close eye on, because he could have a major role in the New England pass rush this year after missing his rookie season with a torn ACL he suffered in training camp.MORE NEWS: More Than 490,000 Lose Power As Nor'easter Hits Massachusetts
If you’re looking for good news on the injury front, linebacker Dont’a Hightower has been going all out this spring after spending the second half of last season on the IR. That is great news for a New England defense that doesn’t have much depth at linebacker.