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New England Patriots starting lineup projection

Tom Brady's favorite red zone target Rob Gronkowski proved he was effective and healthy last season. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

OFFENSE

Quarterback (Tom Brady): Suspended by the NFL, he remains the No. 1 option and looked sharp throughout offseason practices, telling those close to him that he feels he’s throwing the ball as well as ever.

Running back (LeGarrette Blount/James White): Blount enters camp as the team’s top “big back,” although he’s suspended for the opening game. White, a 2014 fourth-round pick from Wisconsin, is the early favorite for the pass-catching role vacated by Shane Vereen although it’s a close competition.

Wide receiver (Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola): No changes atop the depth chart from 2014, as this group returns intact.

Tight end (Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler): The question last year at this time was if he could stay healthy. He answered it with authority and now the Patriots have added Chandler, the former Buffalo Bill, to create a nice 1-2 punch.

Left tackle (Nate Solder): Recovering from a rocky start to the season, he settled in and provided solid blindside protection. The 2011 first-round draft pick enters the final year of his contract

Left guard (Josh Kline): The spot vacated by the retirement of captain Dan Connolly will be closely watched, with Kline -- a third-year player out of Kent State -- an early favorite.

Center (Bryan Stork): Fourth-round pick in 2014 stepped into the starting lineup in Week 4 of his rookie season and was part of the solution to fixing some early-season struggles up front.

Right guard (Ryan Wendell): Scrappy overachiever was essentially the fourth choice for the job last year, but turned out to be the right choice as a stabilizing presence.

Right tackle (Sebastian Vollmer): The 6-foot-8, 320-pounder enters his seventh NFL season and earned three All-Pro last year as one of the game’s top players at his position.

DEFENSE

Left defensive end (Rob Ninkovich): The ironman played more snaps than any defensive lineman in the NFL last season.

Nose tackle (Sealver Siliga): His recovery from offseason foot surgery will be watched, as first-round draft pick Malcom Brown waits in the wings.

Three-technique defensive tackle (Dominique Easley): The 2014 first-round draft choice was shut down in December because of his knee and hopes for a bigger impact in Year 2.

Right defensive end (Chandler Jones): Entering his fourth NFL season, he missed offseason camps after undergoing offseason surgery for an undisclosed ailment. Free-agent signing Jabaal Sheard fits here, too.

Strongside/weakside linebacker (Dont’a Hightower): Coming off the best season of his three-year career, he had offseason surgery on his labrum and probably won’t be ready for the start of camp.

Middle linebacker (Jerod Mayo): The eight-year veteran has had his last two seasons cut short due to significant injury, and looks to regain his old form while recovering from surgery on his patellar tendon.

Strongside/weakside linebacker (Jamie Collins): As many projected at this time last year, the ultra-athletic Southern Mississippi alum busted out as one of the NFL’s up-and-coming stars.

Cornerback (Logan Ryan): The third-year pro out of Rutgers played 51.7 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie and then 46.3 percent last year. He’ll likely be counted on for more this year.

Cornerback (Malcolm Butler): Super Bowl hero played 16.6 percent of the defensive snaps in the 2014 regular season, and the Patriots hope he can make a big jump this year.

Safety (Patrick Chung): Turned his career around after a challenging 2013 season in Philadelphia, earning a starting role and then signing a three-year extension.

Safety (Devin McCourty): One of the game’s top center-field safeties, he cashed in this offseason by re-signing with the team for five years and $47.5 million.

SPECIALISTS

Kicker (Stephen Gostkowski): A Pro Bowler in 2014, his strong leg is also valuable on kickoffs, and the Patriots just rewarded him with a four-year, $17.2 million contract.

Punter (Ryan Allen): Left-footed third-year man also serves as the team’s holder.

Snapper (Joe Cardona): Rookie out of Navy was drafted in the fifth round and replaces Danny Aiken, who remains a free agent.