The Patriots will open training camp next week surrounded by a feeling of uncertainty that has not been present in Foxboro in over a decade.
Though the arrest of Aaron Hernandez, followed swiftly by the team’s decision to release him, has been the dominant storyline of the offseason, his void is far from the only one Bill Belichick has needed to fill.
The team will also open camp without Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead — all major offensive threats last season — and with tight end Rob Gronkowski still not close to beginning football activities as he recovers from back surgery.
With Hernandez now off the team and Gronkowski not expected to be ready for Week 1, the Pats will count on an unheralded crew of tight ends led by Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells to provide some relief at the position.
Though the majority of the defense remains intact, rushing the passer has not been the team’s forte in recent years. A key to that unit’s success will be the development of second-year defensive end Chandler Jones, who tallied six sacks through his first eight games last season but failed to record any during the final eight.
Is one of these positional issues what concerns you most as the Patriots prepare to open camp? Or could it be that the team, despite still having Tom Brady at the helm, is undergoing a crisis of leadership?