With the New England Patriots finally hitting the practice field this week, Tom E. Curran shares his bold predictions for Pats training camp as well as the top storylines that will be monitored over the next few weeks.
1. QB INFO WILL BE ABUSED BEYOND RECOGNITION
Do you know there are times during a Patriots practice when the defense is supposed to allow passes to be completed? Seriously. Could be in 7-on-7s or in a 1-on-1 between wideout and corner, but in order to get the teaching done, some reps are not competitive. It’s basically just pitch-and-catch. Not often, but it happens. Just for the look.
Does the team announce to the media on-hand the non-competitive reps so that we don’t mistake it for something of consequence? No. So we scribble ‘em all down and spit ‘em back out at you later.
There’s a quarterback competition here in training camp for the first time since... well, since Hugh Millen outdueled rookie Scott Zolak and third-year man Tommy Hodson in 1992. That’s 28 years. Since we’re all a little rusty at covering one, we will convince ourselves that everything matters.
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The order in which Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer take reps will be breathlessly chronicled. Who is talking to whom? What was the completion percentage in 1-on-1s, 5-on-5s, 7-on-7s? Who seems sad? Who does Robert Kraft make a beeline to speak with when he makes his practice cameos?
And every little thing will be chased by an “a-ha!” a “tsk-tsk…” or a simple, “Well, whaddya make of that?”
What will we make of it? Sometimes something. Sometimes nothing. Hoyer will be the most polished of the three quarterbacks in the first week. Stidham will throw it the best. And Newton won’t look so hot in 11-on-11. And yet, it will be Cam when the season starts. And that’s not even a bold prediction.
2. I WILL HAVE AN ANEURYSM IF N’KEAL IS ABSENT
Guys get hurt. Dinged. Laid low. Need a blow. But N’Keal Harry was on the field for about 11 minutes last season before he got hurt in the first quarter of the first preseason game. His rookie season was, essentially, dead in the water at that point.
Harry went on IR, came back and played in seven games. He was on the field for 220 snaps and had 12 catches for 105 yards in those games. In the team’s lone playoff game, he was targeted seven times, caught two and had 21 yards.
For years, the Patriots struggled to develop homegrown receivers. Blame was usually placed on them. Made sense. It’s not like the Aaron Dobsons, Josh Boyces or Taylor Prices went someplace else and lit it up after the Patriots moved on from them.
But blaming the kids has gone out of style. The growing tendency to rage against all things Tom Brady has put him in the crosshairs for the fact too many of the wideouts the Patriots drafted either couldn’t catch a cold or needed GPS.
Without mean and impatient Tom, the thinking goes, Harry will show why he was a first-round steal. And I want to find out myself. But Harry’s got to stay healthy first.
3. STAR OF CAMP?
Last year, Jakob Johnson was barely a curiosity. He was a camp body that didn’t even count against the Patriots roster as he was part of the International Pathway Program designed to give foreign players a shot in the NFL. Johnson, of course, played for the Stuttgart Scorpions.
Last September, Bill Belichick said of Johnson, “He definitely started out as the 91st person on the roster and had a long, long, long way to go. Back in the spring, I don’t think anybody ever envisioned him being on the roster at that point, or even being on the practice squad, to tell you the truth.”
But James Develin got hurt and Johnson, who was adept at demolishing people in the running game, emerged. For three weeks. Then Johnson got hurt, landed on IR and was done for the year.
Now, with Develin gone and Danny Vitale opting out, Johnson is the lone spine-crushing fullback on the roster. And the Patriots need one of those with what’s destined to be a run-oriented offense.
4. DEFENSE WILL BE MILES AHEAD OF OFFENSE. LIKE…MILES
They say in baseball that hitting is timing and pitching is disrupting timing? The same applies to offensive football. The harmony and precision needed to run plays effectively takes a long time to build. And the Patriots – like the rest of the NFL – have had almost none of that time.
Worse, the quarterback who’ll probably be running things when the season starts didn’t get here until late June. So the lead guitarist is joining the band just before it goes on tour (admittedly, I know nothing about music … maybe you can do that and still sound good).
As a result, when the Patriots go 11-on-11, the offense is going to look not very good and that’s just a fact and everybody better be ready for that right now.
5. YO. ADRIAN IS GOOD.
The Patriots' best offseason signing for 2020 is going to be Adrian Phillips. Better than Cam Newton? Yes. Better than Cam Newton. They asked for bold predictions, bold predictions they get. The former Charger steps into the void left by the opt out of Patrick Chung and does Chungian things all through camp and into the regular season.