Get an exclusive first look at the Patriots Organized Team Activity that took place on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 on the practice field behind Gillette Stadium.
Late May is a far cry from early September.
And action in shorts is nothing like on-field pounding in pads.
But OTA workouts this time of year are the first chance the media – and by extension the fans – gets to see the first stages of what will eventually become the 2015 Patriots.
An offseason filled with free agent departures, a boatload of draft picks and the return of some key faces who landed on injured reserve last season combine to give the defending champions a very different look heading toward the new season.
OTA practices kicked off on Tuesday on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium with Tom Brady and Co. getting to work as a team.
They continue later this week with the media watching the workouts on Friday.
With that in mind, here are five key areas PFW will be keeping an eye on at this very early point in what Bill Belichick referred to previously this spring as the "long journey" toward opening night against the Steelers.
First impressions – Two draft picks already seem to be, at least in theory, penciled in for starting jobs. Is first-round pick Malcom Brown ready to fill Vince Wilfork's void on the defensive line? Is fourth-round guard Tre' Jackson ready to be a starter, like his Seminoles teammate Bryan Stork before him last fall? Obviously a lot can change to alter any starting plans between now and September, but it's always good to get a first-person impression of guys expected to contribute from day one in New England.
Secondary concerns – Deflategate aside, the cornerback position has been the biggest story of the New England offseason. Former starters Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard are all gone. Free agents like Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain were signed and could be expected to handle big roles. Malcolm Butler led the offseason you might expect of an out-of-nowhere Super Bowl hero. The first look at arguably the most important position in New England starts now.
Third-down catch – Shane Vereen was a key reason the Patriots won the Super Bowl last February. Now, he's a Giant. The role of passing back or third down back has always been a huge one in the Patriots offense whether it was Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead or Vereen. Now, there is a lot of doubt in that role. Last year's fourth-round pick, James White, was a non-factor as a rookie and fans seem to be dismissing him. Free agent Travaris Cadet caught the ball well from Drew Brees and might be asked to do the same for another future Hall of Famer. Regardless, the first look at the pass catchers and the overall running back position will be notable, even in shorts. Tyler Gaffney will be especially worth a look, given his late arrival last summer and spending his rookie season on IR.
Four health reasons – The Patriots are generally tight-lipped and overly cautious with guys returning from injury. The team has a number of key players in that situation – the top four being Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones and Aaron Dobson. Mayo has had the longest to recover, but a torn patella is a major injury. Seeing him at all would probably be a good sign. Hightower is coming off labrum surgery and is probably a ways off. Jones was reportedly on crutches earlier this spring after dealing with a hip injury last fall. And Dobson's make-or-break third season starts now. Health in May doesn't mean anything for health in September, but it's worth noting.
Five new faces – While many have focused on the offseason departures (Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Wilfork, Revis, Browner and Arrington certainly are worth the attention!), there are some intriguing new faces in Foxborough who'll be on display for the first time on Friday. That includes Fletcher, McClain, tight ends Scott Chandler and Fred Davis and edge rusher Jabaal Sheard. While Sheard is pretty much assured a key role on the defense, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the new faces carve our roles for themselves.
These are just a few of the many things PFW will be looking for on Friday? What else will you be hoping to hear about from the media? Let us know with a comment below!