<
>

What to watch in upcoming OTAs

The Patriots are scheduled to hold their third of 12 voluntary organized team activities on Wednesday, and it will be the first session in which media members will be permitted to watch.

This week’s organized team activities are for younger players and those who are new to the team’s system. Then in the coming weeks, the entire team will be brought together for more work.

Since there is no contact and players aren’t wearing pads, it isn’t “real” football, but some important things can be gleaned from OTAs, such as …

Who are the rookie error repeaters? As former Patriots linebacker and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi has previously said, one thing a Bill Belichick-coached player does not want to be labeled as is an “error repeater.” The rookies received an introduction to the playbook in their minicamp April 30/May 1, and this week marks the first time they are back on the field since that time, so coaches will be gauging which rookies studied their playbook during their time away.

Brandon Tate’s progress. The second-year receiver could be a big part of the team’s plans at receiver and in the return game, and Wednesday should provide a better barometer as to how far he’s progressed since being placed on injured reserve (knee) in November after playing in two games. Is Tate a full participant in drills? Is he still working his way back into shape?

Comparing and contrasting Devin McCourty and Darius Butler. This figures to be the first time that the 2010 first-round draft choice (McCourty) and 2009 second-round draft choice (Butler) are on the field at the same time, which should provide a sneak preview of what could be a spirited training camp competition at left cornerback. Both bring different attributes to the field -- McCourty is physical and a strong run-force player, while Butler is ultra-athletic. With veteran Shawn Springs no longer in the picture, the opportunity is there for McCourty, Butler, Jonathan Wilhite, Terrence Wheatley and Kyle Arrington to seize.

Competition at center coming into focus. Center Dan Koppen has fended off competition in each of the last two years for a starting role, and the Patriots have a young crop of centers to push him again that includes Dan Connolly, Rich Ohrnberger, Ryan Wendell, Ted Larsen and perhaps even George Bussey. The Patriots hosted veteran free-agent center/guard Cory Procter on a visit last week, which could be viewed as an indication that the team wants more competition on the interior (Procter has since signed with Miami).

Closer look at Ron Brace. The 2009 second-round draft choice played sparingly as a rookie, and with Vince Wilfork locked in at nose tackle, his best chance to emerge now appears to be at right defensive end. One of the things coaches have stressed with Brace is improved footwork, and that is something to watch on the field.