Organized team activities are now a thing of the past, but the next three days will offer a good deal of insight into this Patriots team as we inch closer to the new season.
The Patriots will open their three-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, including an appearance from Brandon Spikes, and it should give us a much clearer picture of just how this team is coming together.
Spikes’ presence may be the biggest story for the Patriots, as he wasn’t present for any OTAs over the past three weeks. Bigger still, they finally have their starting linebackers back together and can actually get a jump on improving one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses from a season ago.
Aside from the Spikes melodrama, there are plenty of storylines to continue to monitor. So, with that in mind, here are five things to keep an eye on as we tour minicamp over the next three days.
1. Return of the Spikes: We mentioned it already, but getting Spikes back is the most important part of this minicamp. He chose to train on his own in Florida, in hopes of becoming a more versatile, three-down linebacker. If he succeeded in that quest, then the Patriots’ defense will be better off for it. The first thing I’ll be looking for is what kind of shape Spikes is in physically and how he’s moving around, especially in coverage.
He still hasn’t returned to Twitter just yet, so I’ll hold onto the #Pow for another time.
2. Tom Brady’s comfort level with veteran wide receivers: Nine of the 12 Patriots receivers are new to the team this year, and most of them will need much more time to get fully acclimated to the offense. Danny Amendola has already developed some good chemistry with Brady, but, aside from him and third-year receiver Kamar Aiken, no one has really stood out. Donald Jones and Lavelle Hawkins have made some noteworthy plays, and Michael Jenkins has spent a lot of time with the first-team offense, but none of them have made a consistent impact just yet. We’ll see if any of them have gotten the system down by now.
3. Rookie wide receivers catching on: Speaking of receivers, there are a few young guys on the roster with tons of potential. Aaron Dobson is catching on slowly, but he hasn’t established himself as consistent or reliable just yet. It will be interesting to see if injured rookies Josh Boyce (foot) or Mark Harrison (foot) participate at all, too. Both players have only been spotted riding the exercise bike during OTAs.
4. Alfonzo Dennard’s injury update -- The last we saw of the second-year cornerback, he was being carted off the field with what looked like a left shoulder injury. Since, the Patriots have kept radio silent about his status, so his presence or absence will be of high priority on what I’ll be looking for. If not, it will be interesting to see who replaces him opposite Aqib Talib as the starting cornerback. Ras-I Dowling has been very impressive so far, but Kyle Arrington was working on the outside with the first team during the first week of OTAs.
5. Offensive line health – There has been at least one member of the offensive line missing at each of the three OTA practices available to the media — Will Svitek (once) and Nick McDonald (twice). Sebastian Vollmer was limited in all three of them, too. So, we’ll see how the O-Line is holding up with another week behind them and if all five of the starters can get down in front of Brady at some point before training camp.