For the first time in quite a while, at this point in the offseason there are more questions than answers when it comes to how the Patriots will look come the initial 53-man roster and the first week of the regular season.
Rob Gronkowski is gone, so the tight end position is in flux. Offensive tackle is a question mark for the second straight offseason with Trent Brown being one-and-done in New England. And besides Julian Edelman and first-round pick N’Keal Harry, there are no set spots at wide receiver.
With that, this spring and summer will be extremely competitive on the field, and that is exactly how the Patriots coaches like it.
“I love it. I really do. I think it’s great,” long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said last week. “I think what is most important is we give everybody a chance to make the team, that we coach everybody, that we demand the same out of the guys that have been here, the guys that have just got here. There’s no sacred cow. Everybody has a lot of things to get better at, a lot of things we can improve upon. I like that. I like the challenge.”
At offensive line, the competition will be at tackle, particularly left tackle with Marcus Cannon seemingly being a lock to start at right tackle. The leader in the clubhouse is Isaiah Wynn, who missed his rookie season with a torn Achilles, but was impressive in the limited time he saw over the summer before the injury.
Besides Wynn, there’s veterans Jared Veldheer, Cole Croston and Cedrick Lang, along with third-round pick Yodny Cajuste. Also, with swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle now in Buffalo, that position is also up for grabs. It would seem two of those four players will make the roster, and it really will likely come down to the three besides Wynn.
Tight end will also be very competitive, maybe even more than any other position, as legitimately any player currently on the roster at the position has a chance of making the team. And at the same time any player currently on the roster at the position has a chance of being cut.
This is because the team isn’t financially committed to anyone, making it truly come down to who performs the best over the summer.
As of now, and it could be tweaked a bit by the time training camp rolls around, the Patriots have Ben Watson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo and Andrew Beck likely competing for three spots. Watson and Seferian-Jenkins seem to have a leg up on everyone else, but it will come down to who looks the best come the end of training camp and the preseason.
Wide receiver is pretty similar as it too is a position pretty much up for grabs. As previously mentioned, Edelman and Harry are locks, but then it will be a battle for likely three other roster spots. Those in the mix are Phillip Dorsett, Demaryius Thomas, Dontrelle Inman, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson, Jakobi Meyers and Ryan Davis.
Dorsett feels almost like a lock and then if healthy so is Thomas, although there’s a chance he starts the year on PUP after suffering an Achilles injury at the end of last year. There’s a good mix of experienced veterans and younger players, so whoever makes the team out of camp will have earned it.
And we didn't even mention smaller battles like at backup quarterback, and even at punter.
Don’t be surprised to see some extra emotion coming from the upper grass fields behind Gillette Stadium this July and August as there will be numerous players fighting for roster spots, which really hasn’t been the case in recent years.
And while there is some risk not having a real idea what some of the most important positions will look like come Week 1, a little competition never hurt anyone.
Let the dog days of summer begin.