Patriots Mailbag: Which Former Long Shot Has Best Chance To Crack Roster?

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The New England Patriots are seven practices into training camp, and we officially have more answers than questions about the 2018 squad.

Watch the video above and read below to find out the answers to fans’ pressing questions.

What would be your projected starting offensive line? What would be your projected starting defensive line?
— @BOSsportsalerts
As of today, the Patriots’ starting offensive line is LT Trent Brown, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason and RT Marcus Cannon.

I believe rookie Isaiah Wynn will have a chance to usurp that role from Brown in the preseason, but for now the veteran is looking pretty good on the blindside during 1-on-1 drills. It remains to be seen how much Wynn will play at guard in the preseason, but he still could pass Thuney on the depth chart, though that seems less likely.

The defensive line has been LDE Trey Flowers, DT Danny Shelton, DT Lawrence Guy and RDE Deatrich Wise in recent days. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick loves himself some Deatrich Wise, who already passed Adrian Clayborn on the depth chart. On third down, expect Shelton and Guy to come off the field, Flowers to move to defensive tackle, Wise to shift over to the left side and Clayborn to play right defensive end.

Don’t hear much about Dawson, how is he doing?
— @JDoe3400
The Patriots clearly like second-round rookie cornerback Duke Dawson, because he’s been the team’s top slot cornerback, but he hasn’t specifically stood out much in camp so far. He was beat twice in 1-on-1 drills by Patriots slot receiver Riley McCarron on Thursday. Even if Dawson wins the top slot role, he still might not be close to being an every-down player. I still expect the Patriots to use three safeties rather than three cornerbacks in their base defense.

How does Brady’s training camp this year compare with years past?
— @jordanallen40
He got off to a slightly slower start than normal, based on completion percentage, but after three consecutive highly efficient practices, he’s right back on track.

Brady looks like Brady. He’s clearly much, much better than his backups, Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling, and there have been times when his receivers haven’t helped him out much.

Talk about the rookie LBs
— @kluzak6
I guess it’s not just media members who ask “talk about” questions. (For the record, I’ve never asked a “talk about” question.)

Fifth-round pick Ja’Whaun Bentley has had his moments. He’s been a nice surprise in pass defense. I haven’t noticed Christian Sam much, but it’s tough to gauge the play of linebackers in training camp unless they’re standing out in coverage.

Who do you see making the roster out of this saturated group of tailbacks (other than Michel obviously)? #MailDoug
— @AlexWhizzy
Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead are locks, assuming full health. I think Brandon Bolden makes it based on his special teams ability and overall versatility. At this point, I’d say Jeremy Hill has a better chance than Mike Gillislee at making the roster as a fifth running back. That’s partially because Gillislee just has so much trouble staying healthy.

I don’t think the Patriots necessarily need to keep five running backs, but it would be a nice luxury to have given Burkhead’s injury history.

If there is a certainty in life, it is that the Patriots will trade for someone else before the regular season begins. Who do you see as Patriots targets (names or positions)? And who do you see being traded from the Patriots roster? #maildoug
— @gcabreu87
It’s too hard to pinpoint potential trade targets on other teams. I could see them targeting any number of positions, from running back to wide receiver, tight end, linebacker or safety.

As for players the Patriots could trade, guard Shaq Mason and defensive tackle Malcom Brown are on the last years of their contracts. Maybe the Patriots could trade a running back, since they have decent depth at that position.

Who has been the most surprising player on OFF and DEF thus far (good or bad)?
— @bostonsboy1997
I didn’t expect much from Phillip Dorsett this season, so he’d be my most surprising offensive player. He’s been solid lining up outside and in the slot.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I guess I am slightly surprised wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell still isn’t healthy enough to practice.

Defensively, Danny Shelton might be my biggest surprise. I always liked Shelton (and I watched him a ton in college), but I didn’t expect him to dominate 1-on-1 pass-rushing drills like he has.

Let’s go rapid fire.

2 parter: when you chart QBs at practice, do you team up with other reporters and each take a QB? Also, do TDs happen at a high frequency in practice/drills which is why you typically only note INTs?
— @BryanThiel_88
Usually only one quarterback is throwing at a time, so we all usually individually chart then ask if we missed something.

Touchdowns only really happen when the Patriots are doing goal line drills. Since there’s no tackling, every play could go for a touchdown.

What is by position, the weakest link on the patriots?
— @DONOTIS11
I guess it would have to be linebacker. I like Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy as starters, and they have some decent depth in their rookies, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers and Harvey Langi. But overall, it could be stronger.

If your shirt isn’t tucked into your pants, are your pants tucked into your shirt?
— @nevetS_71
Only if your shirt is really tight.

#maildoug What part of your job do you enjoy most? Least?
— @MrQuindazzi
Most: I get to watch football for a living. I used to go to training camp practices for fun. Now I get paid to do it.

Not to make anyone too envious, but very few parts of my job actually feel like work. I drive to Gillette, hang out with people I consider friends, watch football, talk to some players and write up everything I saw and heard.

Least: Transcribing stinks. I also don’t like waking up early, but now that I have a child, I’d probably be doing that anyway.

Has Belichick encouraged enthusiasm in previous camps the same way as this year? Fielding punts, offense playing as the defense, etc
— @TheBoyRu
I actually think the Patriots are having more fun this year.

If it’s a conscious decision by head coach Bill Belichick, then I think it’s a smart one. I don’t think Belichick was going to lose his team over benching Malcolm Butler, but this was an odd offseason for the Patriots between the Super Bowl loss and Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski skipping voluntary workouts. A little fun never hurt anyone, and it even dates back to the spring, when Belichick canceled the final days of OTAs and took his team to Fenway Park.

Hi Doug, what do you think the chances of us bringing back LaFell are now that he’s released? Or will it take another injury? #MailDoug
— @JulesReturn
Hi JulesReturn!

Slim after signing Eric Decker, but I suppose it could happen.

I see LaFell as a similar player to Decker. Both are big receivers who can play outside and in the slot.

If Olivia were a football player, what position would she play?
— @McKennAnalysis
She’s getting pretty good at crawling, and I think she could distract quarterbacks by being so cute. So, I’ll go with defensive end.

Olivia joined me for the start of Thursday’s training camp practice and had a blast getting attention from fellow reporters.

Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images

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