The New England Patriots put the 2014 season in the rearview mirror Sunday night, and now they have just three more practices left before enjoying a lengthy summer vacation.
Patriots minicamp, which starts Tuesday, is mandatory, unlike organized team activities, which were voluntary — unless you were late, of course. That means we could see Patriots who aren’t nursing injuries return for this week’s practices, and attendance might rise past the 70 or so players we saw during the three OTAs open to the media.
Taking attendance likely won’t be any easier this week, however, as the Patriots don’t wear numbered jerseys until training camp. We’ll be lucky if players have numbers on the backs of their helmets or on the bottoms of their shorts.
Here are three areas we’ll be watching closely during minicamp:
MATT FLYNN’S USAGE
The veteran third-string quarterback will be forced to learn the Patriots’ complex offense on the fly, which means we might see increased reps from Flynn. This could steal headlines if his snaps outpace Jimmy Garoppolo’s, but there’s no need to panic.
If Flynn does see more reps than Garoppolo, or even starter Tom Brady, it’s only because he was signed as OTAs were wrapping up and he needs all the reps he can get before the Patriots’ nearly six-week long break starts June 18, when minicamp wraps up.
I firmly believe the Patriots signed Flynn, who will wear No. 8 this season, to be a veteran backup for Garoppolo if Brady’s four-game suspension stands. I don’t see Flynn taking a regular-season snaps this season unless Garoppolo suffers an injury or steeply, steeply declines before Sept. 10.
WILL A THIRD-DOWN BACK EMERGE?
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels narrowed down the third-down back competition to James White, Travaris Cadet, Brandon Bolden and Dion Lewis last week, leaving second-year pro Tyler Gaffney out of the equation. It appears, based on comments from McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick, that the Patriots view Gaffney as an early-down back, not a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
No back emerged in the third-down battle during OTAs, so we’ll see if one player starts to emerge during minicamp. White seems to be the best fit for the role, since he had experience as a receiver and blocker at Wisconsin, but he has to gain Belichick, McDaniels and Brady’s trust before the season begins.
Cadet is probably the best receiver of the bunch, but he lacks experience as a blocker. Bolden has earned the most trust, since he’s been in the Patriots’ system for three years now. With Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley out of the equation, Bolden could see his role dramatically increase in 2015.
Bolden, at 220 pounds, is bigger than a traditional third-down back, but he has 25 catches on 37 targets for 171 yards during his three-year career. He also has 139 carries for 634 yards with six touchdowns.
Malcolm Butler didn’t seem to be affected by his two-week suspension, since he was receiving a veteran’s share of snaps during the third week of OTAs. We’ll see how he stacks up against Logan Ryan, Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and the rest of the Patriots’ cornerbacks after three straight days of minicamp, however.
Butler, by the way, looked in great shape as he returned to practice. It certainly didn’t look like he had become complacent during his busy offseason.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images