Here's a look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1. I went through my vast reservoir of contacts in the league and in the Foxboro offices to come to some sort of consensus.
Okay, I didn’t even come close to doing that. I trust my eyes and this is what they tell me as we head into the 2015 season:
NUMBER 10: Chandler Jones
NUMBER 9: Jimmy Garoppolo
NUMBER 8: Julian Edelman
NUMBER 7: Interior defensive linemen
NUMBER 6: Dont'a Hightower
NUMBER 5: Jamie Collins
NUMBER 4: Coming Sunday, July 26
NUMBER 3: Coming Monday, July 27
NUMBER 2: Coming Tuesday, July 28
NUMBER 1: Coming Wednesday, July 29
Second in our series looking ahead to the opening of Patriots training camp July 26.
Patriots reporters had access to a handful of the team's spring workouts, but for fans, training camp represents the first opportunity to see the latest iteration of their team in person. And given the number of roster alterations made this offseason, there will be plenty for them to take in.
Let's start with the first-round rookies. Isaiah Wynn and where he ends up on the offensive line will be worth a look. How Sony Michel's speed and pass-catching ability factors into the Patriots offense will be fascinating as well.
Fellow first-year players Duke Dawson (will he compete as the "star" in the slot for Bill Belichick), Braxton Berrios (might there be an opening for him with Julian Edelman suspended), Ja'Whaun Bentley (could he help patrol the middle of the defense), JC Jackson and Keion Crossen (athletic corners who impressed in the spring) will garner interest as well.
Then there are the veteran additions. Danny Shelton's arrival could prompt the Patriots and Brian Flores to lean on more 3-4 looks. Adrian Clayborn may provide the defense with a pass-rushing boost, particularly on third downs off the right side. Jeremy Hill looks like he'll compete with Mike Gillislee for "big back" duties. Cordarrelle Patterson might be able to take advantage of the new kickoff rules to make an impact as a return man.
The newcomer who may generate the most interest? Jordan Matthews. His experience in the slot could make him a featured piece in the Patriots offense with Edelman out at the start of the season.
The who's-the-better-coach-Bill Belichick-or-Mike Tomlin? debate has been over for a while now -- last December may have been the final nail in that particular coffin -- but James Harrison played for both, he was Skip Bayliss and Shannon Sharpe's guest on FS1's Undisputed, so the question was a natural one:
Mike Tomlin [or] Bill Belichick?
"Belichick" was Harrison's quick, unequivocal answer.
"To me, yes."
Okay, then, Why?
"Mike Tomlin's good as a head coach," said Harrison, the Steelers' long-time linebacker who finished his career with the Patriots last season. "He's a players' coach. I think he needs to be a little bit more disciplined . . .
"The big thing with Belichick is, he's very regimented. He's disciplined. Everyone is going to be on the same page. It's not going to be anything as far as someone doing their own thing. Over there, their whole coaching staff is like that. You're going to know what you're doing. There's meeting after meeting; I ain't never been to so many meetings in my life . . . Man, I seen Tom Brady running to a meeting, scared to be late . . . I don't even know what happens if you're late to a meeting over there.
'Cause everybody gets there on time?
The bottom line, in Harrison's mind, is this:
"Belichick is old school. Like, 'You're going to do it like this or it ain't gonna get done.' Like I said, playing for him is easy if you're used to [regimentation], if you're used to disicipline; (if you're used to it) it's not something that's hard to do. If you're not, then you're going to have some issues until you get in line."
"Belichick's actually funny. He's nothing like the guy that you see on TV."