Patriots Minicamp Preview: Rob Gronkowski, Alfonzo Dennard Among Players To Watch

Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Bolden, Stevan RidleyThe New England Patriots have just three days of minicamp before they can leave Foxboro, throw on some Hawaiian shirts and relax for the next month before training camp begins in late July.

The Patriots had solid attendance at organized activities, and now it’s time to find out if certain players were skipping those voluntary sessions due to injuries or for other, unknown reasons. The Patriots will hold minicamp Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and since pads and contact still are not permitted under the collective bargaining agreement, the practices will strongly resemble OTAs — no numbers on jerseys, heavy on passing and largely to get players acquainted with the team and playbook.

Check out what we’ll be looking for during this week’s mandatory minicamp:

Injury updates

Quarterback Ryan Mallett, wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell, defensive tackles Dominique Easley, Armond Armstead and Tommy Kelly, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard were absent from Thursday’s OTA. Dobson, Easley and Kelly are dealing with injuries, but it’s unclear why LaFell, Mallett, Amrstead and Dennard missed practice. We’ll be looking to see if they take the field on Tuesday.

Wide receiver Matthew Slater, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and D.J. Williams, cornerback Justin Green, linebacker Deontae Skinner, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Will Smith were limited during OTAs. If they can get through a full minicamp practice, it will be a good sign.

Garoppolo vs. Mallett

Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo missed the first week of OTAs to participate in the NFLPA Rookie Premiere, and veteran Ryan Mallett missed the third week due to an “excused absence.” Both players struggled in the second week of OTAs when they shared the field. Minicamp will be a good opportunity to compare the two players’ progress.

Garoppolo started off strong Thursday without Mallett on the field, but his accuracy tailed off near the end of practice during 11-on-11 drills. Mallett’s roster spot isn’t guaranteed after the Garoppolo session, but the rookie will need to prove he’s the better player before training camp is over to ensure the backup role.

Wide receiver competition

Dobson is expected to miss minicamp after undergoing surgery to repair a broken foot over the offseason, which will give second-year pros Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce and free-agent addition Brandon LaFell more opportunities to work with quarterback Tom Brady. Thompkins and Boyce played well during OTAs, and if their strong play continues, Dobson could be playing from behind once he gets back on the field.

LaFell admitted he’s playing at half-speed while learning the offensive playbook. He’ll need to start catching on fast.

Starting safety battle

The only constant at safety during OTAs was Devin McCourty; there was no clear front-runner for the other starting spot. The starting strong safety likely won’t be decided until August, but Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson will keep fighting for the job. Since Harmon played well in 2013, it should be his spot to lose.

Alfonzo Dennard

It was difficult to find answers for why Dennard missed OTAs. He dealt with shoulder and ankle injuries last season, but unless he had surgery to repair either ailment, he would have been working with the limited players during OTAs. Dennard was nowhere to be found, however, so it’s at least possible he outright skipped the voluntary sessions.

We’ll try to find out why he was absent, and it will be telling either way if the third-year cornerback is on the field for minicamp.

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