Jabaal Sheard should fill Chandler Jones' role in Patriots' opener vs. Cardinals

The New England Patriots open training camp July 28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Here's a starting lineup projection:


Quarterback (Tom Brady/Jimmy Garoppolo): Brady’s 14-season streak of starting the Patriots' season opener will come to an end. That was the fourth-longest streak of starting the season opener for a single team, trailing only Dan Marino (16, Dolphins), John Elway (16, Broncos) and Brett Favre (15, Packers).

Running back (Dion Lewis): Lewis, who is coming off a torn left ACL, played 66 percent of the offensive snaps in the first five games last year before injuries struck.

Wide receiver (Julian Edelman): Brady’s No. 1 target, he had offseason surgery on his left foot, similar to Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.

Wide receiver (Danny Amendola): After restructuring his contract for the second consecutive offseason, he returns as the top slot option who also plays in some two-wide receiver sets. Free-agent signee Chris Hogan will also be a big part of this mix.

Tight end (Rob Gronkowski): The “funnest guy in sports” is also one the most dominant at his position.

Tight end (Martellus Bennett): Acquired in a trade from the Bears, the 6-foot-6, 273-pound Bennett will form what could be the NFL’s best 1-2 TE combination with Gronkowski.

Left tackle (Nate Solder): A biceps injury Oct. 11 landed him on season-ending injured reserve and the Patriots missed him dearly at times.

Left guard (Joe Thuney): Third-round pick from NC State will compete with Josh Kline for the top job. His upside is notable.

Center (Bryan Stork): Feisty third-year player is in a battle with second-year man David Andrews which could go either way.

Right guard (Jonathan Cooper): Acquired in a trade from the Cardinals, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft is hoping for a career rebirth.

Right tackle (Sebastian Vollmer): Entering the final year of his contract, the 32-year-old is at his best on the right side, which he will play with Solder’s return from injury.


Defensive end (Rob Ninkovich): A veteran of 11 seasons, he has been the definition of consistency, playing in 116 consecutive games for the team (including playoffs).

Defensive tackle (Malcom Brown): The 2015 first-round pick played more snaps than any Patriots interior defensive lineman last season, as he grew quickly on the job.

Defensive tackle (Terrance Knighton): Veteran Alan Branch and third-round draft choice Vincent Valentine are candidates as well, but when Knighton is healthy and motivated, he’s one of the NFL’s better players at the position.

Defensive end (Jabaal Sheard): After playing 51 percent of the defensive snaps last season, he’s primed to see that number spike as the top replacement for the departed Chandler Jones. Chris Long, Shea McClellin and Trey Flowers are among those who could also be a factor at this spot.

Linebacker (Dont'a Hightower): The 2012 first-round pick enters the final year of his contract ($7.7 million base salary) and brings a unique combination of toughness, physicality, intelligence and versatility to the D.

Linebacker (Jamie Collins): Few in the NFL can match his athleticism as he has emerged as a marquee NFL player. Like Hightower, he enters the final year of his contract and is primed to cash in next offseason.

Linebacker (Jonathan Freeny): A first- and second-down-type linebacker whose best work comes against the run, Freeny is also a factor in the kicking game.

Cornerback (Malcolm Butler): Coming off a Pro Bowl appearance in just his second season, Butler enters the final year of his contract and is scheduled for restricted free agency in 2017.

Cornerback (Logan Ryan): Playing 89.3 percent of the defensive snaps in 2015, his steady approach was appreciated by the coaching staff. He is an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Safety (Patrick Chung): Having experienced a career revival upon his return to New England in 2014, his ability to match up with opposing tight ends is a big part of his value.

Safety (Devin McCourty): A team captain with solid range in the deep third of the field, he is the center fielder of the secondary.


Kicker (Stephen Gostkowski): The Pro Bowl kicker is now the second longest tenured Patriots on the roster behind Brady as he enters his 11th season.

Punter (Ryan Allen): Left-footed punter/holder had a 39.9-yard net average last season (No. 16) and had 31 punts inside the 20 with just three touchbacks.

Long snapper (Joe Cardona): Second-year player from Navy is expected to be available to the team after missing spring voluntary practices as part of his military commitment.

Kickoff/punt returner (Cyrus Jones): The rookie from Alabama was the team's top draft choice (second round, No. 60 overall). He was dynamic in college and will be given the opportunity to take the top spot right away.