By Christopher Frangolini
Today marks the start of the 2016 football season for the New England Patriots, and the team had their fan’s full support with a packed opening-day training camp practice.
Both myself and co-Editor and Chief/Founder Jake Mackey were among the 12,393 passionate fans in attendance.
Here are some notes, thoughts and players to watch as the weather and roster spot battles heat up.
Quarterback: The Patriots haven’t carried three quarterbacks since the Ryan Mallett-Brian Hoyer era, but with Tom Brady’s four-game suspension this year will be different. The presumed starter for the first four weeks is Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots second-round selection from 2014. When Garoppolo was drafted some imagined him as the next guy, the guy to succeed Brady. In March of 2016, Brady inked a new deal that would keep him under center in New England throughout the 2019 season. With Garoppolo’s rookie deal concluding after next season (2017), the Patriots will have an important decision to make. Keep and pay a backup quarterback that won’t have a chance to start until the 2020 season? There’s no reason to doubt the Patriots are committed to Brady. Coach Bill Belichick already shot down the possibility of a quarterback controversy earlier this week when he named Brady the starter in week five.
“Tom will return as the starting quarterback when he comes back, but in the meantime, we have to prioritize the first part of our schedule and that will be to get Jimmy ready to go,” Belichick said in a statement to the media Wednesday.
On QB reps, Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo split evenly 50-50 in team drills. Brady 1st in 7-on-7, Garoppolo 1st in 11-on-11.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) July 28, 2016
Garoppolo is still looking forward to his audition.
“I’ve been preparing to be the starter since the first day I walked in here, every competitor has that mindset,” he said. “I’m excited, man. I’m excited for Week 1. That’s why we play the game. We play to get out there and get your opportunity, and when it comes, you’ve got to be ready for it.”
Brady got first team reps on 11 of the 16 practice periods. The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin reported that Brady may have received first team reps as a “sign of respect from the coaching staff.”
“He took the first snaps in every individual and 7-on-7 drill, a sign of respect from the coaching staff that this is still Brady’s team as he enters his 16th season as the starting quarterback,” Volin wrote.
Still factoring in Brady’s suspension, a contingency plan was put in place when the Patriots drafted Jacoby Brissett in this year’s draft. This could possibly be the next guy they try to groom into Brady’s replacement, easier said then done. Regardless, Garoppolo will have a four week showcase to prove if he can play in this league. This could ultimately make or cost him millions of dollars when he becomes a free agent. He could also become a trade piece with other franchises willing to overpay for a starting quarterback.
Running back: This may be the most exciting positional battle of the summer. The Patriots have seven running backs on the 90-man roster and there is not necessarily a number one guy. The Patriots 2015 leading rusher, LaGarrette Blount (703 yards and six touchdowns), is back on a one-year, veteran minimum deal. Blount suffered a season-ending hip injury in December of last season and looks to be almost fully healthy. He split reps with Brady and Garoppolo, but if you ask him, he’s worried about his own performance.
“We did everything that we had to do to get back, we’ve done everything that they told us to do to make sure we stay on track to be where they need us to be,” Blount said.
“I’m just worried about what I can do to continue to get better and make sure I’m on the field,” Blount said.
Brandon Bolden, Joey Iosefa, Dion Lewis, James White and Tyler Gaffney join new running back additions Donald Brown (Colts and rookie D.J.Foster .
If Dion Lewis can stay healthy, he can fulfill the passing down back role. Last season he caught 36 passes for 388 yards and two touchdowns. He added a solid 4.8 yards per carry average (234 yards, two rushing touchdowns). His season was cut short when he tore his ACL in week nine.
Brandon Bolden’s role is primarily as a special teamer, although he was thrusted back into a ball carrier/pass catcher out of the backfield with last year’s injuries.
This leads an inconsistent-but-versatile-at-times James White, Joey Iosefa, Tyler Gaffney, Donald Brown and D.J. Foster left for really one roster spot.
Foster and Gaffney will most likely be delegated to practice squad roles. James White, who I don’t think is a lock for this team, Brown and Iosefa all will be fighting for a spot.
Aaron Dobson: Can we stop wasting our time now? The Aaron Dobson project has officially failed. He’s been inconsistent and injury prone since the Patriots drafted him in 2013. He should not make this team. Instead save a wide receiver spot for veteran Nate Washington. Washington is coming from Houston, where former Patriots wide receivers coach (2008) quarterbacks (2009-2010) and offensive coordinator (2011), Bill O’Brien implements a similar system.
In Dobson’s last two seasons alone, he has only suited up for 16 games, making 40 catches on 79 targets for 557 yards and four touchdowns. That’s mediocre at-best.