The Patriots’ practice on Sunday afternoon marked the end of this year’s training camp. From here on out, the Patriots will practice under regular season protocols, as they prepare for their Week 1 matchup against the Miami Dolphins on September 13. As preparation for the Dolphins begins, let’s take a look back at what all the training camp reports taught us about the 2020 Patriots.
1.) Damien Harris Will Improve an Already Good Running Back Group
Damien Harris took full advantage of Sony Michel missing the start of camp. Harris projects as the same kind of early-down back as Michel, but one thing we’ve noted from his limited preseason action in 2019 is his ability as a pass-catcher. By no means is Harris a James White type back, but he’s a threat to catch the ball, something Michel has struggled with.
Harris had such a strong camp that even with Michel off PUP, we could see Harris splitting the lead back role with Michel. With Harris emerging, Michel back healthy, White remaining a top receiving back, and Rex Burkhead thriving in a do-it-all role, the running back room in New England is the most talented and deepest skill postion on the Patriots’ roster.
2.) The Wide Receiver Group Remains Clouded with Questions
Aside from Julian Edelman, who practiced like his consistent-self, training camp was a mixed bag for the wide receivers. On one hand, you had guys like Gunner Olszewski and Devin Ross standout, but on the other, you had Jakobi Meyers with a quiet camp. Meyers is now firmly on the roster bubble.
The rest of the wideouts had their fair share of ups and downs. Jeff Thomas was out a majority of training camp with an injury, but he’s back now. He quickly needs to make up for lost time if he hopes to make the final roster. N’Keal Harry missed a couple of early practices but picked up his play as of late. Mohamed Sanu seems to have a nice connection with Cam Newton. Finally, Damiere Byrd has the speed the group needs and his connection with Newton is valuable, but we see him as more of a complementary piece rather than a main option.
The Patriots will need at least two of their wideouts to consistently produce alongside Edelman if they wish to have improved weapons from a season ago. Unfortunately, as of yet, there’s no clear answer to the void behind Edelman. There is plenty of hope for the postion, but there are no certainties.
3.) The Offensive Line Should Survive the Loss of Marcus Cannon
Going into training camp, the right tackle spot was a postion to watch. Marcus Cannon vacated the postion when he opted-out of the upcoming season. Second-year man, Yodny Cajuste seemed to have the inside track to winning the job, but Jermaine Eluemunor had other ideas. Eluemunor, who played at guard last season, flipped outside to play right tackle and has taken most of the first-team reps. By all accounts, Elumneour has done a good job of filling in for Cannon. Additionally, we’ve heard some good things about rookie tackle, Justin Herron.
It won’t be easy to replace Cannon, even if he struggled at times last year, but it looks like the Patriots have enough tools at right tackle to do just that.
4.) The Situation at Kicker is Something to Monitor
To put it lightly, Justin Rohrwasser has had a tough training camp. So much so that Nick Folk was brought in to compete for the starting kicker job. Rohrwasser went 3-5 on field goals the first day of padded practices and then didn’t kick in front of the media for the rest of the first week. An injury reportedly held him out, but he’s returned to action this past week and the struggles have persisted. It’s clear Folk has the upper hand in the kicker competition.
5.) Rookie Defenders Will See Action Sooner Rather than Later
The youth movement has begun in New England. It’s starting to feel as if the rookies, particularly on defense, will see the field sooner rather than later. It all starts with Kyle Dugger, who’s spent all training camp flashing his playmaking ability. It’s easy to think of Dugger purely as a Patrick Chung replacement, but he’s also capable of playing a deep safety role as well. His versatility, strong camp, and the loss of Chung and Duron Harmon will allow Dugger a chance at immediate playing time.
It doesn’t stop with Dugger though. It’s likely Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings earn notable roles as well. Uche is a versatile linebacker that can play off-ball and on the edge. His best trait, rushing the passer, has reportedly been on display in training camp. The Patriots have experience using versatile linebackers, so don’t be surprised to see Uche making an impact in year one. Jennings has also had a strong camp. We project Jennings as more of an edge defender. He’s pro-ready and should get some snaps on early run downs.
The other rookie defender most likely to see the field is Cassh Maluia. Maluia isn’t a roster lock, but we have him in our latest 53-man roster projection. He’s a fast linebacker, with solid tackling skills. If nothing else, Maluia can play a role on special teams.
6.) The Defense Will Remain the Strength of the Patriots
We all could have assumed the defense would remain the strength of this team, but if you needed a reminder, training camp was certainly that. The defense dominated a lot of the practice, especially in the secondary.
It’s fair to suggest the defense will face some amount of regression after losing so much talent during free agency and opt-outs. But how much regression should be expected? If their training camp performance is any indication, it won’t be much. The main cause of regression will likely be the edge and linebacker spots, as the two positions are particularly young and inexperienced. The defensive line is also a postion to monitor. The depth is a little thin, especially if Beau Allen were to remain out. With that being said, this defense is still very talented. The defense is a big reason why we believe the Patriots remain AFC East favorites.
7.) Tight End Struggles Should be Expected
All offseason we’ve reminded fans that rookie tight ends historically produce at low rates. Devin Asiasi had a very good camp and Dalton Keene will be a solid player too, but reasonable expectations should be placed on the duo. The rookie growing pains will be real. On the flip side, when Asiasi and Keene struggle it’s important not to overreact. Tight ends typically need a couple of years in the league to really breakout.
The real problem with the postion isn’t so much the rookies, but the lack of depth behind them. Ryan Izzo is the projected third tight end. A more reliable third option would provide a better outlook for the position in 2020. It’s possible the Patriots add another tight end via trade or free agency.
8.) Cam Newton Is the Starting Quarterback
As each day of practice goes by, it becomes more and more clear Cam Newton is the Patriots’ next starting quarterback. We had Newton winning the job at the beginning of camp, but it’s nice to see him put it all together. From the moment Newton was released in Carolina, he’s had the itch to prove the world wrong. He’ll get that chance with the Patriots in 2020. (For a more in-depth breakout of what a Cam Newton led offense will look like, check out our film breakdown here.)