(After Thursday's organized team activity, ESPNBoston's three Patriots reporters were asked to pick one player they want to see more of in the coming months, and explain why.)
FB SPENCER LARSEN (picked by Field Yates)
Intrigue around Larsen is natural given his versatility -- he once started a game on offense, defense, and special teams as a rookie -- which is a characteristic always appreciated by Bill Belichick. Larsen also has familiarity, as he thrived under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during their time together in Denver.
In helmets and sweats it’s difficult to make much of Larsen’s overall skill set, but he displayed more athleticism that I had anticipated, and an adept ability to catch the football. Larsen showed off body control in keeping his base and center of gravity underneath him as a receiver, and has a soft pair of hands to corral the football.
We’ll learn much more about his skill set in further OTA’s and training camp, during which we’ll also come to better understand how McDaniels envisions a fullback being utilized in his offense. Although McDaniels has previously relied on two-back sets (Larsen’s role in Denver is certain evidence of that), it’s no guarantee that the team will keep a fullback, as was the case coming out of training camp in 2011.
In evaluating the Patriots offensive skill players, it’s clear that the team has myriad of experience and talent, which further complicates the process of projecting how individuals fit into the 53-man roster plan. But in seeing Larsen on the field, and having previously seen him during his time in Denver, he projects to be a player that Patriots fans could come to further appreciate for all of his contributions. New England has thrived off of utilizing players in a number of roles in the past, and Larsen has stated his openness to doing what is asked of him. That could open up the possibility that he’s used not only all over the offensive formation, but also as a core special teams player and perhaps even at linebacker.
Re-examining the Patriots offensive skill players, it’s possible that the team could only keep one receiver (Matthew Slater) who is likely to regularly contribute on special teams. That might put a premium on the team to utilize other offensive skills players on special teams, and again Larsen’s value would be highlighted.
In building his roster, Belichick has seemed to approach the process with the mantra in mind of finding, for lack of a better term, football players. He isn’t one to fall in love with a player who can run fast and jump high unless he can make functional use of those tools. Athletes and potential aren’t what he seems to seek.
Larsen won’t earn individual accolades on a consistent basis, but he’s the type of player that appears prepared to do a number of jobs on a consistent basis. A Belichick type of player.
Count him as one to keep an eye on heading into the 2012 season.
TE BRAD HERMAN (picked by Mike Rodak)
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are certainly the premier tight end duo in the league, but the question pops up from time to time: What would the Patriots do if one, or both of them, are injured?
Over recent seasons, the Patriots have tried to keep the tight end position well-stocked beyond their two young stars. Veteran Alge Crumpler helped eased the two into NFL life, while last season, draft choice Lee Smith and rookie free agent Will Yeatman battled in training camp before both caught on with other teams. And most recently, the Patriots brought on veteran Daniel Fells, who started 15 games for the Broncos last season.
On Thursday, however, Fells was nowhere to be seen, reportedly recovering from an injury. Gronkowski spent the duration of the practice working with the team's training and strength staffs to rehab his left ankle after surgery this offseason. The Patriots converted defensive end Alex Silvestro to tight end for at least the time being, and he saw plenty of reps on Thursday. Otherwise, they were down to Hernandez and rookie Brad Herman.
An undrafted free agent, Herman started only three games last season at Iowa, where he played under former Bill Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz. He had only eight catches on the season. On Thursday, Herman may have matched that total in practice, taking advantage of his chance to stand out in the absence of Gronkowski and Fells.
When Gronkowski and Fells return, one storyline will be whether Herman is able to continue to earn reps in practice, come minicamp or even training camp. The Patriots always seem to keep at least one undrafted rookie on their 53-man roster each season. With only eight signed this year, could Herman be next in line?
LB BOBBY CARPENTER (picked by Mike Reiss)
Just one player? That's a tough assignment.
Based on what we saw Thursday, my list started with second-year running back Shane Vereen (what can he do if healthy?), veteran center Dan Koppen (fighting for a job after a long run as a starter), second-year offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (if pressed into full-time, is he ready?), receiver Brandon Lloyd (fun to watch a different skill set of any receiver on the roster), second-year cornerback Ras-I Dowling (how does he recover from hip surgery?) and linebacker Bobby Carpenter (where does he fit?).
Since my two ESPNBoston teammates went with offensive players -- and I just cleverly circumvented the rules to initially mention six players instead of just one -- the final choice came down to defense.
We've already had a lot of discussion about Dowling this offseason, so I went with Carpenter, the 2006 first-round draft choice who was easy to spot in warmups because of the long blonde hair coming out of the back of his No. 59 helmet.
Carpenter was later on the field during sub package work, and in an offseason where more resources have been devoted to that aspect of the defense, it made one wonder if Carpenter might be able to carve out a niche as a coverage player. Bill Belichick has noted that more of the game is being played in space, and maybe that's the type of role that brings out the best in the athletic Carpenter, who is now on his fifth NFL team (Cowboys, Dolphins, Rams, Lions, Patriots) in seven years.
If Carpenter makes the team -- he could be competing for a spot against someone like second-year linebacker Jeff Tarpinian -- he would also project to help on special teams.
When the Patriots signed Carpenter to a one-year deal earlier in the offseason, Carpenter told Sirius XM NFL Radio, "If you have a specific talent they’re going to find a way to utilize that."
I'm interested to see how Belichick and his coaching staff do that with Carpenter.