The New England Patriots are no longer looking like the walking wounded as they exit the offseason schedule with training camp on the horizon.
Many of the Patriots’ burning injury questions were answered during organized team activities and minicamp. Vince Wilfork (torn Achilles), Tommy Kelly (torn ACL), Will Smith (torn ACL), Rob Gronkowski (torn ACL), Dominique Easley (torn ACL), Sebastian Vollmer (broken leg) and Jerod Mayo (torn pectoral) all made positive strides this spring after their 2013 seasons ended early due to injuries.
Wilfork, Kelly, Smith, Vollmer and Mayo were full participants in minicamp, while Gronkowski and Easley upgraded their involvement as the sessions progressed. Aaron Dobson (foot), Alfonzo Dennard (shoudler) and Armond Armstead (infection) were no-shows during minicamp, which shows there’s still progress to be made before the summer.
OTAs and minicamp left fans were plenty of questions as the 2014 Patriots go on vacation, check out this week’s mailbag:
@DougKyedNESN why should we believe that Kenbrell Thompkins will be much-improved in 2014? Shining with no pads means nothing.
I disagree that shining without pads means nothing, especially for wide receivers. Obviously contact is limited, but Thompkins is still running routes against, and beating, NFL cornerbacks. Thompkins has bulked up and he looked more comfortable in the Patriots’ offense this spring.
Thompkins actually is proof that shining without pads can be notable. KT stood out last spring as an undrafted free agent, then he kept that success rolling during the summer, started Week 1 and caught 32 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns, including a game-winner against the New Orleans Saints in Week 6. He had some struggles as a rookie, but before last year’s OTAs and minicamp, no one would have predicted that Thompkins, not Aaron Dobson or Josh Boyce, would start the first seven games of the 2013 season.
Thompkins’ success this spring doesn’t mean that he’s won the starting job or that he’ll be a 1,000-yard receiver, but he certainly showed improvement, which is encouraging.
@DougKyedNESN Who of the undrafted players has impressed you the most and has the best chance to stick around
Undrafted and undersized running back Roy Finch made the biggest impression during minicamp. It could be difficult for Finch to crack the roster however, since it would come as either a third-down back or slot receiver — two crowded positions for the Patriots.
The undrafted free agents with the best chance to stick around are linebackers Cameron Gordon, Taylor McCuller and Deontae Skinner, based entirely on how the roster is constructed. Since minicamp and OTAs are essentially non-padded passing practices, I didn’t get a good enough glance at any of those three players to say who is a front-runner to crack the roster — Skinner was limited throughout the spring, however.
@DougKyedNESN – with the logjam at CB (Revis, Browner, Ryan, Arrington, Dennard) Can minicamp standout Daxton Swanson make the roster?
Since Browner is starting the season with a four-game suspension, yes, I think Swanson could make the roster. He was the most surprising standout during OTAs and minicamp, making big plays all spring. It will be interesting to see how Swanson looks when he’s matched up in one-on-one drills during training camp with pads on, but he flashed good hands and physical play in minicamp.
@DougKyedNESN Who’s more likely to line up at TE for the Pats this year: James Develin, Jamie Collins, or (insert FA TE here)?
Out of those three choices, I’d say Develin. Most think of him as a fullback, but he lined up split out wide a baffling amount in 2013. The Patriots love Develin, though, and he likely will be moved around a lot in 2014.
I expected the Patriots to sign another veteran free agent by this point, but the team might have been waiting until the spring sessions were over. Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finely still are out there, though.
Collins is an intriguing option to play tight end, and he could be the evolved version of Mike Vrabel in the goal line offense. Collins told me he played some tight end in high school, so he at least has some experience at the position. He’s definitely the most athletic option to play the position on the roster, at least in goal line packages.
@DougKyedNESN how did Justin Jones look? Also, is Armstead real or not?
Jones still has work to do. He showed off his impressive size and reach, but it also was obvious that he hadn’t played football for over a year. It will be interesting to see how he can use his size when the pads are strapped on.
And yes, Armstead is a real human being. He has a tendency to disappear for months at a time, however. For a big man, he can enter and leave the locker room very quietly. He’s the Batman of the Patriots.
@DougKyedNESN Could Logan Ryan beat out Arrington this summer for the nickel corner spot?
I think Ryan has his sights set on the starting spot across from Darrelle Revis. Brandon Browner likely will earn that spot once he returns from his four-game suspension, but Ryan said he looks at both Revis and Browner as competition.
Ryan was impressive in the slot in 2014, and he’ll definitely compete with Arrington for that role this summer.
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