Five Patriots minicamp moments that will stir up the most Patriots buzz
Just a quick reminder: Minicamp is an extension of "passing camp." Players are not in full pads. There is no hitting of any kind. Therefore, if you're looking for updates on how the offensive line is taking shape, or how Mike Pennel is going to impact the game for the Patriots' defensive front, don't hold your breath.
The passing game alone, however, offers us a multitude of points of intrigue. Those are where are eyeballs will be glued when minicamp kicks off Tuesday and runs through Thursday.
Here are five minicamp moments we're expecting to see that should kick up a little bit of buzz around the team -- as much buzz as can be kicked up in June -- almost two full months before training camp begins.
BRADY'S FIRST CONTESTED COMPLETION TO HARRY
Tom Brady and N'Keal Harry got a workout in together late last month, but this will be their first opportunity to connect in a team setting. What will it look like? Will there be a back-shoulder attempt in one-on-ones executed successfully? How about a contested throw in a 7-on-7 situation? Completed or not, Brady's first tight-window attempt to the 6-foot-2, 228-pounder will be closely scrutinized. There's plenty of time for them to mesh, but observing how they interact at minicamp, and what Harry does in order to make sure he's up to speed, will be worth watching. Any opportunity the pair gets to work one-on-one will also be worthy of close examination for those of us in attendance. During kickoff/kick-return practice periods, Brady has historically pulled aside receivers or tight ends for extra throws. Oftentimes it was Rob Gronkowski on the other end of Brady's passes in those moments. Now it should be Harry.
BRADY DOWN THE SEAM TO A TIGHT END...ANY TIGHT END
Typically when Brady targeted a tight end deep down the middle of the field -- a real risk-reward proposition -- over the course of the last decade, that tight end was Gronkowski. Who'll be on the receiving end of those now? Ben Watson might be a good guess as the front-runner, but he'll be suspended for the first four weeks of the season. Brady will likely have to establish some sort of rapport with someone else at the position. Austin Seferian-Jenkins wasn't on the field when reporters were last present for an OTA practice, but he's a strong candidate. Matt LaCosse, meanwhile, looked fluid in the only practice open to reporters thus far this spring, and he could be building to a role as a middle-of-the-field threat. Fair or not, if there's a player at this position that Brady peppers with passes this week, that player will be shouldered with the expectations of helping the Patriots transition to life after Gronk.
STIDHAM'S FIRST 'WOW' THROW
Everything we've heard about Jarrett Stidham, both leading up to this year's NFL draft and thereafter, is that you have to see him throw the football. "Stidham is one of the true wild cards because he spins it as well or better than anybody in this entire draft class," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah said before the draft. "In shorts, he'd be a top-five pick. Unfortunately, it hasn't clicked on the field like you'd want to see at Auburn . . . But just throwing the football, he's a great athlete." Stidham had an opportunity to put his arm on display in an OTA practice that was open to reporters two weeks ago but didn't make much in the way of remarkable plays. Even with Brady back in the mix -- giving the Patriots four quarterbacks in camp -- the rookie fourth-rounder should have plenty of chances to chuck it over the course of minicamp. Whenever he drops one into a receiver's lap for a long completion, that'll surely generate some conversation about his potential. Even if he's a very long way from being dubbed "The Next Guy" in New England.
SIGNS OF PROMISE FROM DAWSON
It looks as if the Patriots will be loaded with talent in their cornerback room for another season. Stephon Gilmore is among the best in football. Jason McCourty is back for more. Jonathan Jones looks like he could be the team's top slot option. JC Jackson could build on an impressive rookie season in Year 2. And the Patriots went out and drafted another corner in Joejuan Williams in the second round. They're set, right? Duke Dawson feels like a forgotten part of the equation after missing all of 2018. He began the year on injured reserve and was later activated off of IR, but he didn't see any game action as a rookie. A second-round pick, he won't be boxed out of a role if he shows up this spring and summer. He projects as a slot defender -- a gig that carries more value now than ever before due to the proliferation of talented slot wideouts across the league running shorter (and more efficient) routes over the middle. In a defense that prefers man-to-man coverage, having defenders for targets of all shapes and sizes is critical . . . which means having Dawson healthy and available could be a boon for Belichick. Dawson has a long way to go before he carves out a regular job, but if he follows through on his promise as a specialist in the secondary then the Patriots defensive backfield could be in a good position to be one of the best units in the league for the second straight year. How he performs this week will be fascinating.
STRONG DAY 3 SHOWING FROM AN UNHERALDED ROOKIE
If you go back and look at our takeaways from minicamp last year, there are two rookie names that stood out late in the week: undrafted corner JC Jackson and fifth-round linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley. Jackson continued to build from there and eventually became a starter for Bill Belichick, showing a unique ability to track the football deep down the field. Bentley had a significant role from the start of the season until he landed on injured reserve in Week 3. Though minicamp is not real football, it is a time when unheralded talent may end up flashing unexpectedly. Which lesser-known rookies might follow in Jackson and Bentley's footsteps this week? Seventh-round corner Ken Webster has athleticism that will stand out, and safety Malik Gant might be someone who makes a few plays on the football. But there are a couple of undrafted offensive contributors who could stir things up this week. Auburn receiver Ryan Davis looks like he could compete in a slot competition that was never truly solidified in the offseason when the Patriots didn't end up with free agents Adam Humphries or Cole Beasley. Tight end Andrew Beck, meanwhile, got a nice chunk of change for signing with the Patriots, and if he performs this week it could bode well for his future in New England.