The New England Patriots have just six more practices before they break for the summer until training camp begins in late July. These seven players have the most to prove over the next three days of mandatory minicamp, which begins Tuesday at Gillette Stadium.
RB D.J. FOSTER
Foster was the biggest standout in the first organized team activities session open to the media May 25. He was injured during OTAs and minicamp last spring, and that ailment continued to hinder him through the beginning of training camp.
Now healthy, Foster has a good chance to prove himself to be the most electric running back on the Patriots’ roster. He looked a step faster and quicker than the rest of New England’s running backs at OTAs. If he can continue to shine, then the Patriots might need to create a roster spot for the 2016 undrafted free agent as they did for most of the 2016 season.
WR ANDREW HAWKINS
Hawkins will need to fight and claw for a roster spot this offseason, as he’s essentially competing with Danny Amendola for the final wide receiver spot. It seems highly unlikely Amendola will be released, so Hawkins will really need to impress this offseason.
He’s also battling with younger players like Austin Carr, Cody Hollister, Devin Lucien and DeAndrew White. If any of the Patriots’ top wideouts suffer an injury, then Hawkins, Carr, Hollister, Lucien or White could make the 53-man roster.
TE JAMES O’SHAUGHNESSY
The third tight end role will be up for grabs all offseason. O’Shaughnessy could get a leg up on his competition — Jacob Hollister, Matt Lengel and Sam Cotton — with a strong three-day minicamp.
O’Shaughnessy has the athleticism to be a receiver threat, but he didn’t show it in his two years with the Kansas City Chiefs before being traded to the Patriots.
LB ELANDON ROBERTS
Unpadded minicamp sessions in which contact isn’t permitted doesn’t play to Roberts’ strengths as a downhill run-defender. That’s exactly why this glorified passing camp is important for Roberts.
The linebacker had some issues in pass coverage as a rookie in 2016. If he wants to become a three-down defender for the Patriots, he has to show some advancement in coverage this offseason.
The spring will serve as a good first step for Roberts. If he avoids being burned during the three-day minicamp, it’s a sign of progress.
CB/PR CYRUS JONES
Jones’ rookie struggles continued in the first OTA practice open to the media. The three-day minicamp will prove if that was just a small sample size and his worst practice of the spring or the norm for the second-year pro.
Jones will need to show improvement both in coverage and as a return man. He was burned by Amendola for a touchdown in OTAs and dropped catchable punts.
CB JONATHAN JONES
Jones was running with the top team during the first OTA session open to the media. He’ll need to impress to fend off players like Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman and the Patriots’ undrafted rookies at cornerback.
Jones adds just as much value, if not more, on special teams as he does on defense, so he has a direct path to a 2017 roster spot. He’ll need to prove he can cover players like Amendola, Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks in order to solidify his spot as the Patriots’ slot cornerback, however.
SS JORDAN RICHARDS
There are parallels between this spring and summer for Richards and the 2015 offseason of former Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson. Both Richards and Dobson showed promise in their rookie seasons before taking a step back in their sophomore campaigns. Dobson did enough in the spring and summer of the 2015 offseason to make the team but played just eight games and was cut a year later.
We’ll see if Richards showed enough promise as a rookie to be kept around for a third season. He was active for just 11 games last season and was a healthy scratch in the playoffs. If that’s a sign of things to come, then Richards’ standing on the 53-man roster is in jeopardy.
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