O-line, secondary in spotlight as Patriots enter camp
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-8; lost to Buffalo in wild-card round)
CAMP SITE: Foxborough, Massachusetts
LAST YEAR: Bill Belichick made the bold move of selecting rookie Mac Jones as his starter at quarterback after a strong preseason. The Patriots lost four of their first six games before going on a seven-game win streak. But what appeared to be the seeds of a fast rebuild a year after Tom Brady’s departure dissipated with them losing three of their final four to end the season. During their win streak the Chargers were the only team they beat at full strength. Their narrow win at division champion Buffalo to cap the streak was exposed as fool’s gold following their blowout wild-card loss to the Bills. Jones had his moments throughout the season, but the Patriots were hurt by a defense that had issues stopping the run.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR DeVante Parker, S Jabrill Peppers, LB Mack Wilson, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Malcolm Butler, OL Cole Strange, WR Tyquan Thornton, CB Marcus Jones, DB Jack Jones, RB Pierre Strong, QB Bailey Zappe.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (head coach, Raiders), RB coach Ivan Fears (retired after 25 years with Patriots), CB J.C. Jackson, RB Brandon Bolden, FB Jakob Johnson, C Ted Karras, LB Brandon King, G Shaq Mason, WR Gunner Olszewski, LB Chase Winovich.
CAMP NEEDS: One point of emphasis will be settling the makeup of the offensive line. Strange will be penciled in as a rookie starter at left guard following Karras’ exit. Mike Onwenu is the favorite to fill Mason’s spot at right guard. What happens at tackle will be interesting. Trent Brown returned to New England last season and played right tackle, but switched with left tackle Isaiah Wynn during minicamp for spells. Whether that is permanent is too be determined.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: The secondary also will be a focus area after Jackson left in free agency. Cornerback Jalen Mills will likely start at one spot, but the competition will be high for the No. 2 slot. The list of candidates includes Butler, Mitchell, Shaun Wade, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones and rookie Marcus Jones.
EXPECTATIONS: The offense got a needed upgrade at receiver with the addition of Parker and bolstered the protection around Mac Jones. The QB’s ultimate success, though, could hinge on how he and the offense adjust to McDaniels’ departure. But the Patriots improvement on the defensive side of the ball will probably matter more in an AFC East that is expected to be even tougher.
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