The New England Patriots are set to kick off training camp today and begin their preparation for the 2014 season. It’s been ten years since the Patriots won their last championship and when the 2014 season begins quarterback Tom Brady will be 37 years old. The team has struggled with injuries in recent seasons and hasn’t put up the dominant performances its fans have come to expect over the past decade. But there are real reasons for optimism as the start of the 2014 season slowly approaches. With training camp just beginning, let’s countdown the top five reasons Patriots fans should be optimistic that their team has what it takes to get back to the Super Bowl for another shot at that elusive fourth championship.
5. Continuity in the Passing Game
2013 was a challenge for the Patriots for a whole host of reasons, but perhaps no more than youth and inexperience in the system at the receiver position. This promises to be a big area for improvement in 2014 and will have to be if the Patriots want to compete with the class of the NFL, particularly in the postseason. The struggles of the Patriots young receivers were well documented in 2013, but those receivers now have a full season within the Patriots system and we should see an increase in their level of comfort with the offense and in their quarterbacks’ trust in them. The same can be said for veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola. If Amendola can improve in his second year with the team and one of the Patriots young receivers can emerge as a consistent threat, the Patriots offense will be far better off in 2014 than it was last season.
4. An Improved Secondary
The Patriots secondary was far from the team’s weakest unit last year, but when you add talent like the Patriots did at the cornerback position the expectation is that defending the pass will become one of the team’s greatest strengths. While the secondary was pretty consistent last season, it has been a real area of concern for the team over the past five years. But with the Patriots making a big splash by bringing in arguably the best cornerback in the game in Darrelle Revis, expectations are through the roof in the Patriots defensive backfield. Adding Brandon Browner will also improve this unit, despite the fact that he will miss the first four games of the season on suspension. That right there tells you how highly Bill Belichick and the Patriots personnel department think of Browner if they’re willing to sign him knowing he won’t even see the field until week 5. Adding these two players to an already solid group that includes Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard is a huge boost. Expect big things from Revis, Browner and the returning cast of the Patriots secondary in 2014.
3. Emerging Youth
Perhaps the most exciting thing to look forward to this season is the potential emergence of more young stars. On defense, most analysts believe that Chandler Jones just scratched the surface last year with his 11.5 sacks. If he continues to improve in 2014, the sky really is the limit for the young defensive end. In addition, Patriots fans and football fans around the country got to see just how dynamic a player Jamie Collins can be during the Patriots divisional round playoff win against the Indianapolis Colts. With the departure of Brandon Spikes, Collins will see much more action in 2014.
It’s not just on the defensive side of the football, however, that Patriots fans can be excited about youth. If second year receiver Aaron Dobson can stay healthy he should improve on what was a stellar rookie season that saw him haul in 37 catches for 519 yards and four scores. Dobson battled injuries throughout his rookie campaign, but if he can stay on the field he has the potential to double those numbers in 2014.
In training camp, the Patriots will have some level of competition at nearly every position and that’s not because the team lacks real starting options, it’s because they’ve amassed a very talented 90 man roster. There are a number of positional battles that are worth watching in camp this year, but what we can be sure of is that the Patriots 53 man roster will have quality depth across the board. Not only will this allow the Patriots to absorb injuries better than other teams, but it will also give the team schematic flexibility. The teams that have success in the NFL excel at fielding situational personnel packages and the Patriots depth across the roster will give Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia a lot of game planning options.
1. An Influx of Veteran Talent
While most of the focus going into training camp is understandably on the health of tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots will also see the return of a number of other veterans whose seasons’ ended early last year because of injuries. It’s great news that Gronk won’t start training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but what’s been overlooked with the focus on Gronk is just how important it is for the Patriots to get three other veterans back from injuries if they want to compete for the Lombardi Trophy in 2014. In addition to Gronk, the Pats are hopeful that linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer can return to form after facing season ending injuries in 2013. Even if they had wanted to, the Patriots organization couldn’t have found that collection of talent on the free agent market. It’s no small miracle that the Patriots managed to get to the AFC Championship Game last year with those four players on injured reserve. If this core of veterans can stay healthy in 2014, the Patriots will be much improved on both sides of the football.
Tags: New England Patriots