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NFL Notes: A Dozen Training Camp Questions for the Patriots

With camp set to open later this month, here are a dozen questions to ponder for the Patriots.

Head Coach Jerod Mayo leading OTA practice on May 29.
Head Coach Jerod Mayo leading OTA practice on May 29.

Training camp is now less than a month away and the Jerod Mayo era will open all the hope that accompanies a new regime. The Patriots will not only bring a first-year head coach into the 2024 season, but also a rookie quarterback, a new draft class and a number of new coaches, some of whom will be entering their first seasons.

With that hope, though, come questions, and the Patriots have many. Here's a look at a dozen we'll be keeping an eye on when camp opens on July 24.

Where will Mayo spend most of his time?

Mayo has talked rather openly about his lack of sophistication when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. He admitted that was a major reason why he felt adding significant experience in Alex Van Pelt and Ben McAdoo was important. Will Mayo gravitate toward the offense in an effort to learn more about the intricacies of implementing a system and play calling, or will he stick with DeMarcus Covington and the defense in an area where he's spent his entire NFL life?

Will Drake Maye have a legitimate chance to start Week 1?

Quarterback Drake Maye running a play during mandatory minicamp on June 10.
Quarterback Drake Maye running a play during mandatory minicamp on June 10.

Based on what we watched during the spring it would be hard to envision Maye having a real opportunity to open the season as a starter. Jacoby Brissett opened every offensive period at quarterback and took significantly more reps on most days. But during minicamp Maye's total snaps drew a tad closer to Brissett's, and the rookie showed some improvement throughout the spring. Once training camp kicks into high gear we'll be watching to see if Maye's snap count continues to rise, thus offering the rookie a shot at the starting job.

Can someone make the transition to left tackle?

The offensive line is more than likely the team's biggest unknown, and with no one on the roster possessing any discernible experience at left tackle those questions will persist into the regular season. Will Chuks Okorafor or rookie Caedan Wallace manage the switch from the right side, or will another candidate (Calvin Anderson?) be pressed into duty?

Speaking of the O-line, where does Mike Onwenu fit?

Offensive lineman Mike Onwenu running drills at mandatory minicamp on June 10.
Offensive lineman Mike Onwenu running drills at mandatory minicamp on June 10.

Onwenu opened the spring at right tackle and both Mayo and Eliot Wolf expressed the desire to keep him there earlier in the offseason. However, during minicamp the veteran slid inside to guard, where he's likely best suited. That leaves some open spots to be filled. David Andrews will lock down the center spot next to Onwenu, but the other three spots are uncertain. Can Sidy Sow handle full-time starter duty at left guard while Cole Strange recovers from knee surgery? Are Okorafor and Wallace ready to man the tackle spots? Lots of questions up front.

Who will emerge as the primary receivers?

The Patriots have a lot of names on the wide receiver depth chart but not a lot of proven commodities. Kendrick Bourne is recovering from ACL surgery. DeMario Douglas is looking to build off a promising rookie campaign. Speaking of rookies, Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker are hoping to find a rapport with Maye and carve out regular roles. Veterans K.J. Osborn, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyquan Thornton are looking to establish themselves in New England. Jalen Reagor and Kayshon Boutte are fighting for roster spots. Lots of names but not many answers.

Is there a suitable third corner?

Christian Gonzalez is back from the shoulder injury that limited him to three-plus games, and veteran Jonathan Jones also is back in the fold. Beyond that solid pair the Patriots have a lot of questions at corner. Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant both left via free agency, leaving a lot of playing time available. During the spring, Alex Austin got a lot of reps alongside Gonzalez, and he impressed late last season in limited time. Shaun Wade is also in the mix for an expanded role if he can find some consistency. Marcus Jones also returned from injury and could factor into the slot competition, which could allow Jonathan Jones to remain on the outside. There are some rookies on the roster as well with Marcellas Dial and Kaleb Ford-Dement fighting for spots while Isaiah Bolden returns from a rookie year spent on IR. With only two surefire performers at the position corner figures to be a very competitive spot.

Does anyone have the ability to play free safety?

The secondary has had a void in the deep middle since Devin McCourty's retirement, and most of the regular safeties that remain play with more of a physical edge closer to the line of scrimmage. Jabrill Peppers and Kyle Dugger are solid players but both fall into that category. Jaylinn Hawkins, a fifth-year player who spent time with Atlanta and the Chargers, filled that role frequently during the spring. Second-year player Marte Mapu also could factor in with his speed if he shows significant development from his rookie season. Definitely a spot to watch.

How will the kicker competition play out?

Chad Ryland struggled through his rookie season, connecting on just 16 of 25 field goal attempts. As a result, the Patriots brought in veteran Joey Slye to provide some competition. Both closed minicamp practices with field goals and Slye was slightly more accurate on kicks ranging anywhere from 35-48 yards in distance. Slye has enjoyed some success in his five-year career but also has suffered through problems with consistency. This is expected to be a true competition, and both will get their fair share of opportunities to win the job.

Sticking with kicking, how will the new kickoff rules play out for the Patriots?

There has been much written about the new kickoffs rules and how they might impact teams in the early stages of the season as coaches experiment with various schemes. Will Mayo want bigger bodies on the field or stick with faster athletes who can tackle in space? Will he favor smaller, quicker returners or look for a bigger body to break tackles and fight for extra yardage? The Patriots kicked off in a variety of ways during the spring, but camp and preseason should offer a glimpse of how they might handle things once the games start for real.

Will contract status lead to limited participation for any veterans?

Last season Matthew Judon worked his way onto the field slowly before a restructuring of his contract accelerated his workload midday through camp. Could a similar situation unfold this summer? Judon said he regrets the way he handled things a year ago, but he's also underpaid and could want an extension. Davon Godchaux, who is also entering the final year of his contract, was present for minicamp but did little more than individual conditioning work. He stated his dissatisfaction with his deal via social media recently and clearly wants more money as well. How might those veterans – and perhaps others – handle their demands and will it affect their participation?

Who are some candidates for a Year 2 jump?

Defensive end Keion White at veteran minicamp April 23.
Defensive end Keion White at veteran minicamp April 23.

Mayo spoke about Keion White as a prime example of a player looking for more in his second season. He lined up inside at defensive tackle as well as end and even some as a standup linebacker. With Lawrence Guy gone he could be an option to assume a larger role up front. Mapu was used sparingly on defense as a rookie and showed flashes of his athleticism. His speed in particular was evident, and perhaps with some experience under his belt he could emerge as a contributor at safety. It's also interesting to note that he is listed on the roster as a safety after spending his rookie year as a linebacker (at least on paper). Sow also could be primed for a jump after getting some solid playing time as a rookie. He will need to improve in pass protection in order for that to happen as he ranked 58th out of 62 qualifying guards in that department according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Where will the extra carries fall?

Rhamondre Stevenson is back with a nice contract extension in hand. He will resume his role as the lead back. Veteran Antonio Gibson offers a change of pace as a pass catcher out of the backfield as well. After that, it's anybody's guess how the backfield roles will be filled. Kevin Harris enters his third season with the team but has yet to emerge as a regular contributor. JaMycal Hasty caught a ton of passes during the spring and has the most experience of the backups. Deshaun Fenwick and Terrell Jennings, a pair of undrafted rookies, round out the depth chart.

Reader Update

With the players off until they report later this month, the notes column will take the next two weeks off as we enjoysome vacation time to gear up for the 2024 season. Have a safe holiday and see you at camp.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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