FOXBORO, Mass. — New Englanders, “don’t waste another minute on your cryin’.” The 2020 version of the Patriots might not be the same well-oiled machine you’re accustomed to watching.
Some growing pains will be unavoidable for a team that suddenly lacks Tom Brady, Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Phillip Dorsett, Ted Karras, Elandon Roberts, Danny Shelton, Stephen Gostkowski, James Develin, Brandon Bolden and their combined 38 Super Bowl rings.
This isn’t exactly breaking news. But it is evident upon watching early Patriots training camp practices.
Those players could be replaced on the field by names like Jarrett Stidham, Cam Newton, Josh Uche, Kyle Dugger, Jermaine Eluemunor, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Shilique Calhoun, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis, Gunner Olszewski, Hjalte Froholdt, Brandon Copeland, Byron Cowart, Justin Rohrwasser, Jakob Johnson and Damien Harris.
The Patriots are exchanging experience for uncertainty. There are no two ways about it, and Patriots fans have to prepare themselves for what might be a sloppier product out of the gate.
That’s not to say the Patriots have looked bad in training camp nor will play poorly throughout the season. But we’re used to seeing Brady’s precision early in camp as he competes at a high level with the Patriots’ savvy defense.
So far, we’ve seen more interceptions than usual from quarterbacks. There have been more drops by pass-catchers, and there are legitimate position battles all over the roster.
This time last summer, we were wondering who might start at tight end and be the 11th player on defense. Now, we only have a general idea of who might play quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, right tackle, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and strong safety.
The strength of the Patriots continues to be their secondary. Stephon Gilmore is the best cornerback in football, JC Jackson is nearly right up there with him, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty are smart, experienced veterans and rookie safety Kyle Dugger showed up in a big way Wednesday with his second interception in as many days and three pass breakups.
But beyond that one grouping, the Patriots are more question marks than declarations. And if players like Uche, Dugger, Eluemunor, Harris and rookie tight end Devin Asiasi really are going to take on significant roles in 2020 without a single preseason game, then it’s truly anyone’s guess how they’ll perform on the big stage.
And obviously the quarterback position is the biggest factor in the Patriots’ future success, and there’s a legitimate possibility that Newton, Stidham or Brian Hoyer could be under center in Week 1. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn’t dismiss the possibility of a quarterback platoon early in the season.
“If it helps us win, then I would consider anything,” Belichick said Wednesday in a video conference call.
It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility as the Patriots have treated the early weeks of the season as an extension of the summer in past years. One would think the Patriots would like to see their quarterback take an actual live snap before deciding on the season-long starter.
No matter who wins the job, that quarterback won’t be as precise and protective of the football as Brady.
The Patriots, as a team, still have a high ceiling. From quarterback to strong safety, they have players with potential. But it might take them longer than usual to round into shape this season. This isn’t necessarily a disparagement as much as it is reality, and it’s one that fans might have a hard time getting used to following four Super Bowl appearances in six seasons.
Photo via Eric Adler/New England Patriots