Expectations and excitement as high as ever for 2017 New England Patriots

The New England Patriots open training camp on July 27 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Here's a closer look at the Patriots' camp:

Top storyline: Can the Patriots, who are widely viewed as a preseason favorite across the NFL, repeat as Super Bowl champions? After they loaded up in the offseason with various personnel moves, expectations are as high as they’ve been in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era (Belichick was hired as coach in 2000; Brady became the starter in 2001). And unlike last year, there is no quarterback question for the first four games of the season. At this time last year, many were wondering how the Patriots would fare during the four-game Deflategate suspension the NFL handed down to Brady. There was obvious intrigue about how Jimmy Garoppolo would answer the challenge. This year, it’s all about Brady as he approaches his 40th birthday on Aug. 3.

QB depth chart: Brady, Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett. With Garoppolo scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, his future and the Patriots’ plans for him have been a hot-button topic. The development of Brissett, a 2016 third-round pick from NC State, could have a trickle-down effect on what happens.

Bubble watch: There always seems to be a surprise player who doesn’t make the team (Terrance Knighton in 2016, for example) after being part of initial 53-man roster projections. As for who that might be this year, the addition of linebacker David Harris in free agency could create a logjam for others at the position, a group that includes Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts. Any of those four could fall into this category, potentially bringing value in a trade scenario.

That rookie could start: The Patriots drafted four players and then signed 20 undrafted players. None of them is ready to start, unless a potential core special-teams role is included in the analysis. So this category is best left blank in the traditional sense, but if forced to make a selection, start at the top with the Patriots' first pick of the 2017 draft, defensive end Derek Rivers from Youngstown State (third round, No. 83 overall). He could factor into a pass-rushing role in the various sub-packages the Patriots employ.

Cooks will become a fan favorite: When New England acquired receiver Brandin Cooks in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, Patriots owner Robert Kraft noted the team hasn’t had a pass-catcher with Cooks' speed since Randy Moss. Cooks, 23, has a smile that lights up a room, and with his dynamic play on the field, here’s a prediction: He will quickly become a favorite of passionate Patriots fans.

Will the Patriots miss LeGarrette Blount? For all the media-based chatter about how the Patriots loaded up this offseason, left unanswered is whether the team has actually upgraded at running back. Blount is out (now with the Philadelphia Eagles), while Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead are in to join James White, Dion Lewis and possibly D.J. Foster. Blount’s power running and work at the goal line were a big part of the team’s success in 2016, although his fumble in Super Bowl LI reflected how he didn’t play his best in the biggest game.

For daily updates at camp, check out the New England Patriots clubhouse page.