5 Things We Learned from the New England Patriots' OTAs
Trying to learn things from OTAs is like trying to understand a book when you only get to read the odd numbered pages and the author is actively trying to blur the lines between characters. Bill Belichick must love this time of year.
Andy Hart from Patriots.com put it succinctly:
The lack of jerseys with numbers made some observations and an accurate attendance difficult, but there was plenty to take from the morning session that took place under sunny skies and pretty warm conditions given the recent cool weather.
After parsing through the multiple layers of Belichickian character development, here are five things that we've learned so far from New England's OTAs.
Competition Abounds on the Offensive Line
Mike Tanier from SportsOnEarth.com gave the New England Patriots' offensive line the silver medal in the NFL rankings—as the second-best offensive line in the NFL. Tanier highlights the depth of the entire positional group rather than noting a singular dominant force:
Depth is the Patriots line's secret weapon. Stork is a well-regarded prospect. Marcus Cannon is a massive super-sub who played well in place of Vollmer and others last year. Guard Josh Kline played mistake-free and opened some holes in a spot start last year, and rookies Cameron Fleming and Jon Halapio ensure depth-chart competition. Some teams may boast a more talented top five, but none can offer a more prepared and capable top eight.
Kline, Stork and Halapio might be depth players initially, but they saw plenty of action in OTAs. Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly—three higher-priced veterans—should be looking over their shoulders.
While Mankins is likely safe this year—2015 will likely be a different story—Connolly and Wendell will have to play markedly better than their rookie counterparts to ensure a roster spot.
Tom Brady Is Still in Charge
Tom Brady has been the talk of the NFL lately, due to an article posted on ESPN.com (subscription required) from Sam Monson stating that the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers have passed him by.
Meanwhile, Brady is just out there working hard, trying to improve his game and help his teammates. Andy Hart from Patriots.com mentioned Brady's leadership as a positive:
Brady was very vocal in working with his receivers in some group work early in practice. The quarterback was throwing back shoulder fades and chiding receivers who broke stride too early or didn’t sell the Go route well enough. He also tutored guys on not pushing off, or at least not making it obvious they were pushing off.
Even if Brady isn't among the top five quarterbacks—who really cares?—he is the best quarterback on the Patriots' roster. And that roster is his to command.
Linebacker Depth Chart Shaping Up
It is no surprise that Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins seemed to be the top group of linebackers out of the gate. They were the only experienced linebackers left after Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher wound up in new locales this offseason.
The fourth linebacker in the team's 3-4 alignment in, however, is still a question. Second-year player Steve Beauharnais looks to have taken an early lead. Mike Reiss from ESPNBoston.com mentioned Beauharnais' playing time in a practice report:
Something that stood out to me late in practice was second-year linebacker Steve Beauharnais leading the defensive huddle with authority in 11-on-11 drills. I watched him put his hands on a teammate after barking out the play-call in a take-charge type of manner. Beaurharnais, the seventh-round pick from Rutgers, is a candidate to elevate into a Dane Fletcher-type reserve role in 2014.
After playing only one defensive snap in 2013, Beauharnais might give Patriot fans a much bigger sample size this year by which to judge the linebacker's skill set.
The Defensive Backfield Is Ready for Greatness
Andy Hart from Patriots.com mentioned one primary grouping that the media was privy to seeing:
Darrelle Revis took his expected spot at left cornerback throughout the workout with a group of defensive backs that often included Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, with Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington getting plenty of reps too.
An impressive crew looks even better when you factor in that the last year's No. 2 cornerback, Alfonzo Dennard, wasn't even practicing.
I'll have much more on this later in the week, but this defensive backfield has a chance to rival Seattle's Legion of Boom for the best secondary in the NFL.
Tight End Depth Is Needed
Justin Jones is a 6'7" behemoth who looks lost even in his highlight films. Asa Watson went undrafted due to medical concerns. D.J. Williams played a whopping 15 snaps last year. The depth behind incumbents Michael Hoomanawanui and Rob Gronkowski is nonexistent.
Fullback James Develin, who filled in at "Move" tight end at times in 2013, worked with the tight ends during OTAs out of necessity, not because he is a top option.
The lack of depth may have caused the Patriots to reach out to the Jermichael Finley, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN. If the former Packer, who is still recovering from a neck injury, doesn't end up signing, Dustin Keller could be a fallback option.