Quick-hitting takeaways from first five days of Patriots camp


FOXBORO -- With no Patriots training camp practice on Tuesday, let's empty the notebook and point out a few of the takeaways we've had through the first five workouts of the summer...

* Surprise, surprise. Five days in, the defense looks like it's ahead of the offense. Can you feel the sarcasm beaming off your screen? It's not unusual for the defense to have an advantage at this time of year, but it's worth noting. Why? The Patriots have a new de-facto coordinator (though not in title) in Brian Flores. They have a new consultant to the coaching staff, Bret Bielema, who has been helping primarily on the defensive side of things. Malcolm Butler is gone. There's some change here. Still, the Patriots defense has performed well, particularly at the goal line with players like Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers and Elandon Roberts stepping up to help make stops. In the secondary, Stephon Gilmore has been arguably the best player -- on either side of the ball -- in camp. Even younger players like Duke Dawson, JC Jackson and Ja'Whaun Bentley have looked like they belong. If under Flores the Patriots are able to think less and play faster, which some players have said they believe will be the case, that could be contributing to the positive gains they appear to have made early in camp. 

* Is there a concerted effort being made toward chemistry-building? After skipping the voluntary portion of spring workouts, Tom Brady has seemingly gone out of his way to try to establish a rapport with players not named Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. We've seen him take post-practice reps with Jordan Matthews, and he hasn't been shy about trying to incorporate players like Cordarrelle Patterson and Sony Michel into the passing game during team periods. Contrast that against the fact that Edelman and Gronkowski have had a relatively quiet first five days of camp (outside of a strong Day 1 from the All-Pro tight end), and it seems like Brady is trying to see what he has in some of his new teammates. 


* Attrition at the receiver position is real. This bears watching. Malcolm Mitchell has not yet practiced and is still day to day, according to Bill Belichick. Kenny Britt remains on the physically unable to perform list, though there is some optimism he'll be ready to go soon. Jordan Matthews suffered what's been reported as a hamstring injury that knocked him from practice over the weekend. Matthew Slater remains on PUP as well. Add it all up, and it's no surprise that the Patriots would be kicking the tires on a player like Eric Decker. Even if they bring in a receiver who isn't a long-term solution, a receiver who understands the system -- Decker spent time with Josh McDaniels in Denver -- would be helpful. Right now, the Patriots are depending on Edelman, Hogan, Patterson and Phillip Dorsett to take on a significant workload. Riley McCarron can chip in, as can Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien and newcomer Paul Turner. But should any of those players go down, the math gets even more hairy. Fewer bodies means more reps spread out among those available, which isn't always a good thing. More work, plus heat, can potentially lead to undue wear and tear.  

* Trent Brown looks like the real deal. Let's preface this by saying that with only two days of padded practice in the books, we shouldn't get carried away with anything we've seen from the large humans in the trenches. But Brown appears to have pretty rare athleticism for a player his size (6-foot-8, 380). When the Patriots lost Nate Solder, I thought they might miss one of the aspects of Solder's game that went largely unnoticed, which was his ability to move in space and make blocks on the move that might be difficult for less-athletic tackles. Watching Brown, who outweighs Solder by 55 pounds, do some of the things he did over the weekend -- moving on screens, getting to the outside to lead block on stretch runs -- makes me think the Patriots could have a special talent on their hands. The comments coming from Kyle Shanahan and Von Miller about Brown now make a little more sense after getting to see Brown in person. 


* Joe Thuney still the staple at left guard. The Patriots may have a first-world problem on their hands up front. If Brown is a legitimate left tackle . . . then what? They drafted Isaiah Wynn, who has the flexibility to play guard and tackle, in the first round. They have Joe Thuney back healthy for a third season after he played just about every snap in his first two. So who's the odd man out? Would Wynn really serve as the team's sixth game-day offensive lineman after being drafted No. 23 overall?