We're taking to Twitter for this week's Patriots Unfiltered Q&A as we start to ramp up for a very different training camp. With reports of players starting to opt out, we're getting an immediate idea of how fluid this NFL season will be. Here's what was on the on the minds of the passionate Patriots fans on Twitter this week.
Do you think that whoever is the starting QB can succeed with this group of receivers? -@sidneyvt
I think as a baseline, a starting trio of Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu will be just fine, but that depends a lot on health and all three of those players had to fight through injuries in 2019. The depth behind those three is tenuous, though veterans Damiere Byrd and Marqise Lee add a bit of intrigue to a bunch of youngsters, but there's no question that if players like Jakobi Meyers or Gunner Olszewski take a strong step forward in their second seasons it will provide a huge boost to the Patriots passing attack.
Given the quality of the Patriots offensive line, running backs and two young tight ends, I would expect those position groups to define the success of the quarterback more than just the receivers. It all starts with winning up front and I think that's where the 2019 Patriots had their initial struggles. The run game was never consistently reliable in 2019 and the result was more pressure on a wounded passing game, which couldn't deliver. Despite not making an obvious talent upgrade, I think the passing game can still be more effective in 2020. -Mike Dussault
List the 4-5 wide receivers that will make the final roster? -@garyg2711gary_
Edelman, Harry and Sanu have to be locks, after them I'm most closely watching Damiere Byrd, who has played with Cam Newton and has an element of speed that is unique among those top receiving options. Undrafted rookie Jeff Thomas has really good speed as well, he could be a dark horse to be that field stretcher, perhaps his ceiling is higher than Byrd's, but like all undrafted rookies, Thomas is in a really tough spot right now. Jakobi Meyers made the team last year with his consistency and if he can do it again he could find himself being a role player again, though I am interested to see Gunner Olszewski, who has really good quickness. Those two undrafted rookies from 2019 are the biggest unknowns in training camp. Will they take a big step forward and lock up the spots they earned last year? Or will they be in a dogfight with the veterans free agents and (currently) two undrafted rookies? -Mike Dussault
Who makes the team Jeff Thomas or J.J. Taylor? -@raziahmed
I was glad to see these two players make it past the cuts to get the roster down to 80 and I think they stuck around for good reason, both were exciting college players and should be fun to watch on the field. Thomas probably has the slightly better shot but it will still be a fight for both of them to make it. Simply because of his skillset, Thomas is a fairly unique piece among the receiving group and has the traits to stand out. Taylor is simply part of a stacked backfield and will have a hard time finding a role in 2020. Still, with James White hitting free agency next year, we've seen the Patriots find ways to employ diminutive backs like Taylor, and with his hard-running style it would be easy to see the coaches fall in love with him. With an expanded practice squad roster, it will be a bit easier to hang on to players like these so I could see them both sticking around. If they can make plays at the NFL level, the Patriots could really use an injection of youthful weaponry like them. -Mike Dussault
Have you heard of any Pats' plan to make at least part of training camp available for fans to view online? -@Marima07
All the details are still being worked out but the plan is to connect fans to training camp in as many ways as possible and this will include at least four live videocasts of Patriots Unfiltered during some key days at training camp, as well as audio broadcasts of practice at the end of August when the pads come on. The Patriots are exploring lots of creative ideas for camp and the plans should be finalized in the coming weeks. -Mike Dussault
Where will pass rush come from? Also, we need a full hoodie chart breakdown video. -@DTLA247
Don't worry, the Hoodie breakdowns will keep coming! As for the pass rush I think it's a great question. Look, the secondary is really good but no one can cover together and it's hard to gloss over the losses of two three-down linebackers who accounted for 13.5 sacks. That said, I think the Patriots have left themselves in a good spot to replace those two, even if it's done through down specialization. On paper, it's easy to see John Simon, Brandon Copeland and Anfernee Jennings as early-down run stoppers and Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun and Josh Uche as the pass rush group. From those six you can see how they might replace Collins and Van Noy, but can they get more production? That will depend on the rookies and second-year players and how much they improve. Is there a three-down player in this group? That will set the ceiling for the 2020 defense and going into the future. -Mike Dussault
A lot of people are saying the lack of a preseason improves Stidham's chance to start over Cam. What're your thoughts? I don't think it really matters. IMO if Cam is healthy, he will start. -@thepatriotsguy
Yes, that's generally my feeling as well, if Newton is fully healthy he shouldn't have a problem winning the starting job. But this isn't going to be a normal year by any stretch of the imagination and I think that means Stidham shouldn't get too far ahead of himself and realize he is still on a track to get starter's consideration, even if it doesn't come until 2021. The key element in camp aside from health is just consistency. If Cam is erratic and Stidham is steady it might make things a bit more interesting than most of us are expecting. Even if Newton seals up the job, there's probably still a better chance than normal Stidham's going to see meaningful action one way or another this year. Without any preseason games, I think it would be best if the Patriots got Stidham some game experience when possible to get a sense of his development and potential. -Mike Dussault
Thoughts on the Patriots "quarantining" one of their 3 Quarterbacks in case the starter and backup go down? -@PatsNewEra
Yeah, we've been hearing about teams exploring this option to keep at least one player at the most critical position healthy just in case the team gets hit with the virus just prior to a game. It's got to be a tough sell for either potential backup quarterback. Stidham is younger and doesn't have a big family yet, that might make it an easier sell, but it's likely best for the team that he is the primary backup. Hoyer is an older vet with a family so it's a bit harder to think about quarantining him. Ultimately, I think there are just too many factors to worry about protecting only a quarterback. The same kind of thing could happen at any position. It's all part of the risk of playing this season and I think teams will just have to deal with issues as they arise. -Mike Dussault
Are you concerned about the player opt-outs? -@ShawMellors
With reports that Najee Toran, Danny Vitale, Brandon Bolden, Dont'a Hightower and Marcus Cannon are opting out of the season, it's just reality hitting the NFL that this will not be a normal season. After five months of building a roster, things are suddenly turned upside down. I was looking forward to incorporating Vitale as the Pats really missed having a true fullback for most of last season. The team does have Jakob Johnson, who was thrust into service last season, but he is far more of an unknown that the veteran Vitale was.
Cannon is a big blow. Now, as a cancer survivor, he's at high risk so it is completely understandable that the veteran would opt out. But the Pats were already waiting for a third tackle to emerge, now they'll need a starter as well. Is second-year player Yodny Cajuste ready? Can Korey Cunningham rise to the challenge? Those are the only two options at this point, unless rookie Justin Herron, often projected to move inside, stays at tackle. A new signing could be likely at this spot but it's never good to be scrambling for a starter at this point.
Losing Hightower can't be understated, he was the last remaining starting linebacker and coming off another excellent season that saw him do it all. On-the-field, off-the-field, there's no way to minimize what Hightower means to the team and his absence will be a huge blow.
Bolden's loss can't be understated either, he's a do-it-all player on offense and special teams and fills a number of roles. I'm not sure who will take over giant boombox duties in the locker room now.
It just goes to the larger point that NFL teams might just have to ride or die with who they have this season. The opt outs will be the first curve ball but all season long you could be dealing with players testing positive and not being able to play. Again, there are going to be so many challenges this year and it's a good bet that plenty of young, unproven players are going to be thrown into the fire. -Mike Dussault
How do you really feel going into this season? What are you optimistic about and what are you most concerned about? -@ClazzyClare
It's obviously hard to look at the 2020 season in the same way I'd usually look at it. There's just a cloud hanging over everything and as we've seen from some early reported opt-outs, teams are going to look far different than we've been talking about all offseason. The challenges will only continue to pop up as the teams start to ramp up. But if we can figure out a way to make football season happen this year, I would embrace the distraction with the hope that the players and coaches can stay healthy. Each day going forward will be so fluid, but hopefully we can stay on track towards the season. If it does happen, I have to feel as confident about the Patriots as any team in the NFL. Team personnel dynamics are already shifting so who knows what the actual roster will really look like by early September, but they have as good a coaching staff as there is in the league and if anyone can be successful under these circumstances it's the Patriots. -Mike Dussault