Monday, July 22, 2013

Five tasks Patriots must complete at camp


The New England Patriots kicked off their training camp Sunday. The rookies have already reported, and the veterans are slated to join Thursday.

Here are five tasks the Patriots must complete by the end of summer activities:

Carve an identity on offense. The Patriots' offense has been tight-end heavy the past two years thanks to the All-World tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But with Hernandez out of the league and in a jail and the uncertainty of Gronkowski's health, Tom Brady won't have the same luxuries in the middle of the field moving forward. Couple that with the departure of the team's leading receiver Wes Welker, and the Patriots have a lot of figuring out to do before the season kicks off. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is plenty capable, and don't be surprised if the Patriots lean substantially on the versatile tailback corps of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley.

Assign tight end roles. When healthy, Gronk is the clear-cut No. 1 tight end. He's a stout blocker and an even better receiver. But New England will need to delegate tasks among the rest of the tight end corps. Returning backup tight ends Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui are mostly of the blocking variety, but former New York Giant Jake Ballard is an interesting prospect in the pass-catching department. Thanks to a knee injury, Ballard hasn't played since 2011, when he hauled in 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns. He's poised for an important role in Foxborough.

Establish the defensive centerfield. Defensive back Devin McCourty moved from cornerback to safety last season and found success, so the Patriots will leave him there. But they're still working on finding his sidekick. The team brought in veteran and former Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, who looks to be the favorite, but youngsters Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon and Steve Gregory will practice as if they have a shot. "[Adrian Wilson will] compete with our other safeties and we'll see how it all turns out," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said recently.

Develop chemistry between Tom Brady and Danny Amendola. Back to offense. The talk of Amendola replacing Welker and Brady's need to get on the same page with him has been beaten to death, but it's important. Welker caught at least 111 passes in five of the last six seasons in New England, amassing no fewer than 1,165 yards in those same years. Where will Brady get that kind of production? Amendola is a nice prospect but wasn't able to stay healthy during his time with the St. Louis Rams. All reports have been positive regarding the Brady-to-Amendola connection, but we'll truly find out the first few weeks of the regular season.

Get Chandler Jones prepped for a big role. The second-year defensive end Jones got off to a hot start last season, tallying six sacks in the first half of the season. He was, however, hampered by an ankle injury down the stretch. Jones is slated to start opposite Rob Ninkovich, and the Patriots will be counting on him early to lead the charge at getting after the quarterback. With New England's usually-questionable secondary play and their again unsure situation heading into 2013, Jones's presence in opposing teams' backfields will be that much more important.

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