Guregian: What to watch for in Patriots’ offseason workouts
To this point, we’ve broken down and analyzed all the different offseason moves Bill Belichick has made through trades, free agency, and the draft. We’ve pointed out how stacked the roster is, and how the defending Super Bowl champs look like a good bet to repeat. We just haven’t seen the new collection of talent in action ... until now.
Thursday marks the first day the media is allowed to view a Patriots offseason workout, with more opportunities coming next month.
With that in mind, here are several storylines we’ll be monitoring:
1. The Gilmore-Butler dynamic
The draft came and went without the Patriots dealing Malcolm Butler, so that allows them to field one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. Butler and Stephon Gilmore should be a terrific duo. They should stifle many of the better receiving duos on the Patriots schedule this season. But let’s watch how they interact in the early going, and how Butler handles riding shotgun. Butler, after all, is playing on a one-year, $3.9 million tender, while Gilmore scored a mega-deal with the Pats (5 years, $65 million). We’ll see if Butler’s usual competitive juices are firing, despite not getting the type of deal he had hoped, even as a restricted free agent. It’ll also be interesting to see if Butler is used strictly on the outside or if he’s moved inside to the slot on occasion.
2. The Brady-Cooks connection
This is our first look at Brandin Cooks, whom the Patriots acquired from the Saints for a first-round draft pick and swap of third- and fourth-round picks. We’ll see that blazing speed and get a glimpse of where Josh McDaniels might use him, be it on the outside or in the slot. It’s also our first chance to see how he’s clicking with Tom Brady. Their on-field chemistry is going to be important. If you don’t connect with Brady, you don’t make it in New England as a receiver. So we’ll get a mini-window into that quarterback-receiver partnership and see if they’ve started to hit it off just like Brady immediately did with Randy Moss.
3. The Gronk show
Will there be a Rob Gronkowski sighting? The big tight end, who underwent season-ending back surgery on Dec. 2, participated in a practice that was closed to the media earlier this week. And last month he was good enough to be involved in WrestleMania 33, jumping into the ring to fight WWE star Jinder Mahal. Given that, it would be hugely concerning if Gronk was a non-participant. If he’s practicing in a limited manner, which is the likely scenario, at least we’ll have eyes on him and gain some sense of how he looks in a football setting. If he’s full go, even better. If he’s not present, or limited, we’ll get a better idea about newly acquired Dwayne Allen, who is sure to get a lot of reps with Brady.
4. Life after Blount
The Patriots have moved on from LeGarrette Blount, who has since signed with the Eagles, so we’ll be monitoring the rotations and use of new backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, who were both signed as free agents. Gillislee, the latest to be plucked from Buffalo via an offer sheet, figures to be the chief Blount replacement going forward. Given the Patriots’ penchant for throwing to their backs, it’ll also be good to check out how well Gillislee and Burkhead catch the ball out of the backfield.
5. The rookie watch
This is our first opportunity to gauge the Patriots’ draft picks. Given the lack of contact, OTAs are tough to get an idea on offensive linemen, but we can start to get a feel for some of the defensive players in this setting since it’s more of a passing camp. So Derek Rivers, the defensive end taken in the third round out of Youngstown State, and Deatrich Wise, the fourth-round defensive end out of Arkansas, can start to make an impression. The Patriots are always searching for pass rushers, so we’ll see how they’re used with Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich and Kony Ealy.
6. Jacoby’s progress
Jimmy Garoppolo looked like a different guy at the start of his second year, and Jacoby Brissett is going to need to do the same. With Garoppolo in the final season of his contract, Brissett could have a bigger role down the road. The 24-year-old has a long way to go and a lot of work to do, so we’ll see how much he’s upped his game and taken to the coaching.