Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.
Training camp report dates:Rookies July 24, veterans July 27
Training camp location: Gillette Stadium; Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Offseason in a nutshell: The Patriots will be fascinating to watch after they scoured the second-tier of free agency and picked up a boatload of potential talent. Former first-round picks Chris Long and Shea McClellin should add another dimension to this defense along with Terrance Knighton. Martellus Bennett could end up being the best offseason move made by any team, giving the Patriots a reliable and often dominant set of red-zone hands alongside a willing blocker off the line. While the moves were praised in part because they were "name brand" signings (no one freaked out this hard when the team inked Jabaal Sheard) they're also the type of depth-first maneuvers that will keep New England on auto pilot without Tom Brady.
Player to watch: Wide receiver Chris Hogan. Hogan was a consistently reliable target in Buffalo and always seems to find himself open. Doing this in New England's system -- and with Brady as the quarterback -- will get one noticed rather quickly. Hogan was the star of New England's minicamp (receivers and running backs tend to stand out more to fans and media during a time when no one can hit) and the Boston Herald reported he "caught more passes from Brady" than any other receiver on the field. With Julian Edelman sidelined, Hogan has a chance to slip into that move-the-chains role.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS:
This would seem to be inevitable, and according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Cooper lined up at right guard with the 1's during the spring. New England dealt Chandler Jones for Cooper and a second-round pick in the hopes that the former top-10 pick can find the form he hasn't discovered yet at the NFL level. Cooper broke his leg a few weeks after being drafted back in 2013, which significantly hampered his ability to stay on the traditional learning curve. Some might argue that Cooper is still not close to where he needs to be and that a strong camp from rookie Joe Thuney or second-year guard Tre' Jackson could derail Cooper's hopes of being a Day One starter.
Together, the tandem could be frightening. Brown, the team's 2015 first-round pick, and Knighton both fit the ideal Patriot two-gap defensive tackle mold. It's not unheard of to see two players of this size on the field at the same time, especially considering the way many teams are working back to a run-first offense. Belichick is loaded with athletic linebackers and pass rushers, and could have a historic defense on his hands if he fits the pieces together.
Belichick always started drills off with Brady before working Garoppolo in. That's been his philosophy this spring after almost completely ignoring Brady's pending suspension last year. Patriots training camp will be boring because the team is self-sustaining and will always be perennial favorites to win the division as long as Brady and Belichick are there. However, Garoppolo adds a new dynamic. Last year, there was still a prevailing feeling around this time that Brady could get his suspension overturned. This year, the scenario is bleak. (UPDATE: The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a petition by Brady and the NFL Players Association to rehear his suspension case.) Does that mean Garoppolo will need more time or is it still important for Belichick to assert Brady as the face of this franchise?
Way-too-early season prediction: Garoppolo starts hot, winning three of his first four games. From there, Brady takes over, the machine churns and New England slides into the playoffs at 13-3.