When training camp opens there’s always a question as to what players you should be keeping an eye on. We all know the old reliables, Brady, Edelman, Gronk, etc., as well as the new guys who have been talked up, like Jordan Matthews and Jason McCourty. What about the guys who could be important, but are flying under the radar? With so many guys in camp, and especially now with the rookies wearing 50-71(for now), it’s tough to keep track. Here’s a guy or two to watch at every position. Also, I discussed this topic with Chris Price on my show this week, if you want to take listen.
Etling is an interesting case. He was taken in the 7th round, and the biggest knock on him is that he really struggles to throw the deep ball. Luckily for him, that isn’t a wildly important skill for a Patriots quarterback. If he can show that he has a quick reaction to the defense and be decisive and accurate on his short to intermediate passes, that could be enough to make the team. He also might end up as a guy who the team does not feel will make it through waivers onto the practice squad. At that point, they’ll have to decide whether to keep him on the 53-man roster, or take their chances and cut him.
From day one, Michel has been running with the first team. It seems that the coaching staff believes he can be their #1 back. Pads are going on for the first time today, so we’ll get a better chance to see exactly what he can do, but he’s looked impressive so far.
The Patriots obviously felt that he could be a game changing back for them, which is why they selected him in the first round. If that ends up working out, it could be a home run of a pick for Belichick and the Patriots.
Let the madness begin! The guy who was hailed as the Edelman look-alike has been turning a few heads the first few days of camp. He is small and white, like the receivers he’s been compared to, but the question will be if he can perform on the field as effectively as they have been able to. With Edelman’s suspension, that potentially opens the door for Berrios and others to make their way onto the roster. Another one of those guys is:
McCarron is not getting nearly the fanfare that Berrios has been getting, but I think he has looked equally impressive the first few days. He has the same key traits as Berrios too, quick, good route runner, short, and white, and could also have an impact on the final roster.
Both McCarron and Berrios could be in a similar position as Etling at the end of camp. The team may not know if they are yet good enough to warrant a spot on the roster, but they may not make it through waivers either. The back end of the receiving corps will be a battle, but I think these two are the best of the bunch in the back.
Hollister was a preseason all star last year, so he’s used to the spotlight being on him in August. I think that this could be his opportunity to actually make and have an impact on the team this year in the regular season too. He has looked very good the first few days, and, provided he keeps playing well, he could certainly be in line for a spot on the final roster. If the team can’t come to an agreement with Dwayne Allen on a contract restructuring, he could be the backup TE on week 1.
Acquired in a draft day trade, the biggest question about Brown is his size and ability to stay in shape during the season. When he has been in shape and focused, he’s been a solid tackle in the NFL, but his focus is the real question. The Patriots are clearly counting on him, as they’ve slotted him in as the starting LT, protecting Tom Brady’s blind side. If he can stay focused and in shape, he could be a huge asset for a team that lost it’s starting LT this offseason.
Ferentz is a backup center who is a bit of a long shot to make the active roster. There will be lots of intrigue at the end of the o-line depth chart this summer, as they always do. They have a ton of guys who are on the bubble, but you know one or two is going to turn out pretty good under the tutelage of Scar. Ferentz actually won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015, when he appeared in 13 games. The more interesting story is Ferentz’s connection to Belichick. His dad, Kirk Ferentz, the head coach at Iowa, coached with Belichick in the Cleveland days. Ferentz has always been thought of as someone who Belichick trusts and thinks highly of. It will be interesting to see if his son can crack the active roster. Belichick’s coaching tree will continue to grow, but this time, on the other side of the chalk.
The Patriots top pick from last year was lost for the season after a promising start to his rookie campaign. He should come right in and be an immediate impact on the defensive line. His pass rushing skills seem to be his strength, but I believe he’s thick enough to help stop the run. He could be a player who has a large impact this regular/post season, similar to Trey Flowers, who was hurt his rookie year.
Langi was also having a promising summer, and was on track to possibly make an impact on the field. His season was cut short, however, when he and his wife were in a pretty serious accident last year. He is ready to go for camp this year, and will be looking to make an impact, especially on passing downs.
Christian Sam & Ja’Whaun Bentley
The Patriots drafted two linebackers in this year’s draft. Bentley in the 4th round and Sam in the 5th. Bentley is more of a thumper, and his lateral agility has been questioned at times, whereas Sam, who started his college career as a cornerback, has the position flexibility that Belichick obviously covets. With some serious upgrading needed at the position, it’s good to have an influx of young talent. The only issue is will they be able to make an impact on the field early on in their careers.
Jones unfortunately finished last season hurt, and was unable to play in the Super Bowl. I’m of the belief that they would’ve won the game if Jones had been active. He could end up starting the season as the slot corner, so his play this summer bears watching.
Crossen, another 7th round pick, can fly. His speed is something that the rest of the defensive backfield doesn’t really have. His speed is what will give him a chance, now he just has to capitalize on that opportunity in camp. He could make the back end of the roster, or he could end up on the practice squad, but I think Crossen is a name that bears remembering.
It seems that every year there’s an undrafted defensive back who ends up having an impact on the team. Malcolm Butler back in 2014, Justin Coleman in 2015, and Jonathan Jones in 2016. AJ Moore might be that guy this year. He was a priority free agent for them, meaning they paid him more money than most undrafted free agents. So they clearly liked his skill set. It seems they will be using him at safety, but he does have some position flexibility as well. With the play of Jordan Richards in last year’s Super Bowl, I’m sure people are ready and willing for a different safety to step in and help on defense. Moore might be that guy.
Football season is officially back! If you get a chance to get down to Foxboro for camp, have a great time, but even if you don’t, you’ll be able to watch Patriots football on TV in just a few weeks!
Pat is the host of the Weekend Warrior Podcast
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Photo: The Berkshire Eagle