FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ten thoughts on the New England Patriots after watching five spring practices over the past three weeks:
1. Keep tabs on running backs. The team has arguably its best stable of pass-catching backs in recent memory, but when it comes to the more traditional rushers there is a bit of a void. The return of LeGarrette Blount to full health could help, but this seems like an area where pro personnel director Dave Ziegler will be keeping a close eye on depth charts around the league to see if anything presents itself. Random thought: Would a team like the Titans, who drafted Derrick Henry in the second round and traded for DeMarco Murray, be willing to part ways with 2014 second-round pick Bishop Sankey?
2. Top pick Jones right in the mix. Cornerback Cyrus Jones, the team's top draft pick (60th overall), played in the slot in the top nickel package and worked as both a punt returner and kickoff returner. He had two interceptions in the practices when reporters were present. Overall, it was an early glimpse of his likely initial role with the club.
3. Stork vs. Andrews at center. Most notable was the 50-50 split at center between incumbent Bryan Stork and second-year player David Andrews, which reflects what could be an intense training-camp competition at a position that didn't initially project that way. One day it was Stork taking the top reps, the next day it was Andrews. Rookies Joe Thuney (third round, NC State) and Ted Karras (sixth round, Illinois) also took some snaps.
4. McClellin's initial fit at DE. In his final season with the Bears in 2015, Shea McClellin was moved to an off-the-line linebacker role in the 3-4 defense, which led some to assume he'd be the third linebacker in New England alongside Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower. But his initial work in the team's system has come at defensive end, which is an indication that the Patriots, unlike the Bears, aren't ready to give up on his pass-rushing skills on the line of scrimmage.
5. Dobson leads way at 'X' receiver. Will this be the year that 2013 second-round pick Aaron Dobson breaks through? He had a solid series of spring practices, but it's understandable why many are waiting to see more based on his struggles to stay healthy the past two seasons and the fact the pads have yet to come on. Dobson, rookie Malcolm Mitchell and first-year player Chris Harper are the top "X" options. If the season started today, Dobson would probably get the nod, but there's a long way to go.
6. Belichick's passion still burns. The head coach turned 64 in April but shows no signs of slowing down. He unleashed on players for ending a warmup drill too early, then was passionately drilling everyone, including Tom Brady, on some of the fundamentals of the game. As defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said, "He demands perfection and we demand it out of ourselves. ... Not only is he a head coach, he's more of a teacher. He's at every station, talking to guys about position-specific drills, and he's talking football with you."
7. Butler's mindset on contract. Cornerback Malcolm Butler wasn't present for the first voluntary organized team activity open to reporters because of what he called a "big misunderstanding" with "off-field issues." As for his contract situation that calls for him to make $600,000 this season, which makes him one of the NFL's best bargains, he said, "I'm going to play hard, no matter what. So it is what it is." That provided important context on Butler's mindset regarding a significant business-related issue facing the team.
8. Bennett brings it. Tight end Martellus Bennett has come as advertised. Until Rob Gronkowski returned to practice Monday, the 6-foot-6, 273-pound Bennett was usually the first tight end through drills and he was one of the more impressive players on the field. He's going to be a big factor.
9. Injuries hit at TE. Michael Williams' torn ACL on Wednesday that landed him on injured reserve was the most significant injury of the spring practices, and it could open the door for Clay Harbor to stick as the No. 3 tight end. From this viewpoint, the loss of Williams is similar to what the Patriots lost last year, when hard-nosed fullback James Develin broke his leg in the preseason.
10. Quarterback position looks solid. There is always an element of the unknown with developmental quarterbacks until they play in a game that counts, but from the perspective of a passing camp, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett held their own behind Brady. Belichick often talks about accuracy and decision-making as the keys for quarterbacks, and he has to be pleased with the potential of his young signal-callers in this area based on what has unfolded this spring.