Patriots training camp kicked off a week ago. But in the eyes of many players, the “real” camp gets underway Monday morning, when New England is set to practice in full pads for the first time since last season.
Roster battles at every position ramp up once the pads come on and full contact commences, but that’s especially true in the trenches, as linemen on both sides of the ball are neutered when the team practices in helmets and shorts or shells.
Here are five such players we’ll have our eye on in the Patriots’ first fully padded practice of the summer:
OL Cole Strange
The Patriots’ top 2021 draft pick has been locked in as their starting left guard since the start of spring practice. Now, we’ll finally get to see how he fares against a full-fledged pass rush and in live run-blocking scenarios. We’ll have our binoculars trained on Strange in O-line vs. D-line 1-on-1s, watching how the lean, athletic rookie fares against some of New England’s more powerful interior defenders.
OT Isaiah Wynn
Wynn isn’t a first-year pro like Strange, but he’s playing a new position this summer, shifting over to right tackle after starting on the left side for the last three seasons. That’s a transition some tackles struggle with given the changes in technique and orientation. The Patriots, though, seem to believe Wynn is capable of making the switch. We’ll see if that proves correct.
DT Christian Barmore
If you’re looking for breakout candidates on this Patriots roster, Barmore has to be near the top of the list. The promising Alabama product started just two games a year ago as the team’s second-best pass rusher behind Matthew Judon, enjoying arguably the best season of any rookie D-lineman. Barmore has said he’s focused on “finishing the quarterback” (converting more pressures into sacks) in Year 2 and also could stand to improve his run defense. Will we see visible strides from him this week?
LB Josh Uche
The Patriots need more pass-rushing depth to complement Judon and Barmore, and that’s something Uche should be able to provide. The 2020 second-round pick flashed athleticism and disruptive potential in each of his first two NFL summers and should have a much clearer path to playing time this season with Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins no longer on the roster. Can he capitalize on that opportunity, though? Uche had three sacks across his first two appearances last season but no sacks, no tackles for loss and just one quarterback hit over his final 11, including playoffs. Offensive tackle Trent Brown has confidence, predicting a “breakout year” for the 23-year-old.
OL Bill Murray
Murray doesn’t have the name recognition of the other players on this list, and his odds of cracking the Patriots’ 53-man roster are much longer. But he’ll be worth watching this week because of the novelty of his current situation. A practice squad defensive tackle for the last two seasons, the Patriots now are trying Murray out on the O-line, a position he hasn’t played since high school. Murray admitted the transition has been “very tough.” We should quickly find out whether the 25-year-old has a chance of sticking in his new spot or is simply overmatched.