The Patriots wrapped up their third practice of the season yesterday, and we are already starting to see trends developing. Some players are standing out for good reasons while others are visibly having issues that must be resolved before the regular season arrives. Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives from the first weekend of 2013.
The theme of the offseason was wide receiver issues in New England, and media members were basically acting like the Patriots didn’t draft two productive receivers. Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are members of one of the strongest receiver classes in memory, and they’re expected to contribute right away. So far, so good; Dobson is long, fast and runs smooth routes. He appears to be the deep threat the Patriots have needed since Randy Moss could still run. Josh Boyce is a different type of receiver, but he has the ability to be special in the New England offense. His footwork is off the charts, which is crucial with the Patriots due to their abundance of option routes they use in the passing game. He is compact but still big enough to be an imposing presence for slot corners and smaller outside corners.
Dobson and Boyce have differing skill sets, which is important for a receiving core. A well balanced NFL receiving core should look like a basketball starting lineup, and the Patriots have that now. Undrafted rookie free agent Kenbrell Thompkins has also looked very good in camp and could be another diamond in the rough for New England. With Michael Jenkins dropping balls and looking slow as usual and Julian Edelman possibly opening the season on the PUP list, Thompkins has a real chance to make the 53-man roster if he continues his consistency.
There is strong depth at the running back position; they have focused on the screen and using the backs in the passing game, and I like what I am seeing. With the current issues at tight end, the backs are going to need to step up and provide that extra spark that is needed to keep the defense off balance, and Shane Vereen looks like the best back to take that role. Stevan Ridley PHYSICALLY looks good, but I will leave it at that because he is in my doghouse. LeGarrette Blount looks good and is going to be a part of this offense. Brandon Bolden is in great shape and looks like he has more burst than last year. Leon Washington has also been featured catching passes out of the backfield in practice. With the trade deadline being pushed back and Gronkowski most likely returning Week 8, the Patriots may be in position to trade Bolden or Blount, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see six running backs on the roster.
I mentioned that Stevan Ridley is in my doghouse, and the reason is simple- ball security. In the words of Bill Belichick on Sunday, “protect the damn ball.” Ridley paid the price by running the length of the field and being replaced at the goal line by Blount. Last season, Ridley had four fumbles in the regular season and one in the playoffs (the knockout hit delivered by Patriot-Killer Bernard Pollard) and that can’t continue. Turnovers cause losses, and if Ridley can’t hold onto the ball, the Patriots will find someone who can. Although the tight ends have done alright, undrafted free agent Brandon Ford hasn’t done anything to stand out and also had a couple drops on Sunday. I’m on record saying I like his game, but he needs to step up if he has any shot to make the team. Armond Armstead has also missed the beginning of camp, which is disappointing because this time is so important for establishing the framework of the defense. Armstead is going to have to play catchup. Hopefully he is back on the field tonight.
The Patriots will be holding their fourth practice on the Gillette Stadium field for season ticket holders and Foxboro residents. Watch for my recap tomorrow afternoon.
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