The countdown to the start of the 2016 season officially begins Thursday, when the New England Patriots hold their first training camp practice.
It could be a bizarro summer for the Patriots, who have more certainty on defense than offense and a question mark at quarterback for the first time in two decades.
Here are the players with the most to prove in training camp:
Garoppolo looked fantastic in organized team activities and minicamp this spring, but those practice sessions are held without pads or a live pass rush. Garoppolo will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback for the first four weeks of the season while Tom Brady serves his Deflategate suspension, and he has to prove his ability to go through offensive reads quickly in training camp and the preseason.
The Patriots’ defense is solid enough to carry the team in those first four weeks of the 2016 season, but they’ll need help from Jimmy G.
Blount, 29, was solid but unspectacular in 12 games last season before being placed on injured reserve with a hip injury. He carried the ball 165 times for 703 yards with six touchdowns and caught six passes for 43 yards with another score.
Blount signed a one-year contract worth $1 million with just $100,000 guaranteed as a free agent this offseason, and despite a shallow group of running backs, he’s not a lock for the 53-man roster. The Patriots could elect to add another back through free agency or a trade, and Brandon Bolden, Donald Brown, D.J. Foster, Tyler Gaffney, Joey Iosefa and James White already are competing for backup spots behind starter Dion Lewis.
White is in a similar position to Blount’s, fighting for a roster spot entering training camp. In two seasons, White hasn’t shown a consistent ability to shine as a ball-carrier, doing most of his damage through the air as a receiver.
White caught 40 passes for 410 yards with four touchdowns last season but carried the ball 22 times for just 56 yards with two scores. Brown and Bolden could offer more versatility in the backup sub-back role, while Foster could offer more speed and upside. White is a solid route runner, but he needs to show more on handoffs.
Dobson has an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster behind locks Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. He’s competing with Keshawn Martin (the favorite), Nate Washington, Devin Lucien, DeAndre Carter and Chris Harper for the No. 5 receiver spot.
Dobson has been a disappointment after being selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, catching just 16 passes for 179 yards with no touchdowns in 12 games over the last two seasons.
Dobson has to put forth a monster training camp and preseason to crack the roster.
Cooper came over from the Arizona Cardinals along with a second-round draft pick when the Patriots traded pass rusher Chandler Jones. Cooper will fight for a starting role with fellow interior offensive linemen Shaq Mason, Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson, Joe Thuney, Bryan Stork, David Andrews, Ted Karras and Chris Barker.
There are only three starting jobs for those nine players. Cooper is the only first-round draft pick of the bunch, however. He struggled in three seasons with the Cardinals, starting just 11 games.
Roberts was impressive last summer in training camp before being placed on injured reserve with a wrist injury. Now he’s fighting for a roster spot with fellow cornerbacks Justin Coleman, Jonathan Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc, V’Angelo Bentley and E.J. Biggers. Roberts has a ton of upside, but he has to pick up where he left off in 2015.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images