Patriots preach harmony, continuity heading into training camp

The New England Patriots open training camp on July 26 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Here’s a closer look at the Patriots’ camp:

Top storyline: Harmony and continuity. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are back together again after an offseason in which Brady and Gronkowski took a different approach by not taking part in voluntary workouts. Gronkowski had said immediately after the Super Bowl that he was weighing his future. Going back to last season, some had questioned how much longer the pillars in the organization would be together, but here they are again. In that sense, it's as if nothing has changed.

QB depth chart: Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling. The Patriots usually enter camp with just three, but they had Christian Hackenberg in for a workout in June as part of keeping emergency lists fresh. Can Etling, a seventh-round pick from LSU, possibly make a run at the No. 2 job the way Hoyer did in 2009 when beating out Kevin O’Connell? If not, the likelihood is that the Patriots would keep three quarterbacks.

Bubble watch: Running back Mike Gillislee entered last year’s training camp No. 1 on the running back depth chart, getting the first carries on the goal line, but he ultimately lost the job to Dion Lewis in Week 6 of the season and never got it back. Now, he might be fighting to simply stay on the roster after the Patriots signed Rex Burkhead to a three-year deal as a free agent, drafted Sony Michel in the first round, and also bring back James White. Also, incumbent punter Ryan Allen could be facing a challenge for his job from Corey Bojorquez.

This rookie could start: First-round pick Isaiah Wynn (No. 23 overall, Georgia) lined up at left tackle and left guard in spring practices and is part of the mix to replace departed Nate Solder as Brady’s blindside protector. His college teammate Michel should see plenty of action, as well, at running back alongside Burkhead, White and possibly Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden or Ralph Webb, while cornerback Duke Dawson (second round, Florida) should compete for playing time, most likely in the nickel package.

Who emerges at receiver? With Julian Edelman facing a four-game suspension to open the season and Brandin Cooks traded to the Rams, the Patriots have a wide-open competition at receiver that includes Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Malcolm Mitchell, Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien and 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios. Perhaps there is an addition before the start of camp to add to that mix, but outside of Edelman, the player with the most experience working with Brady is Hogan (his third season in New England). Brady often talks about the importance of building trust with his receivers, and that process is a bit further behind than in past years after Brady wasn't around for voluntary workouts in the spring.

Filling Malcolm Butler's void: Outside of Super Bowl LII, when his benching was a top storyline, Butler had been a constant presence at cornerback for the Patriots from 2015 to 2017 by playing 98.8, 96.7 and 97.8 percent of the regular-season defensive snaps. With Butler now in Tennessee, the Patriots have a handful of candidates to step into his role, led by veterans Eric Rowe (fourth year) and Jason McCourty (10th year), and with some intriguing younger players such as Ryan Lewis (first year, University of Pittsburgh), Duke Dawson (2018 second-round pick, University of Florida), Keion Crossen (2018 seventh-round pick, Western Carolina) and J.C. Jackson (2018 undrafted free agent, Maryland). Stephon Gilmore is locked into one cornerback spot, but who plays opposite him will be one of the top storylines to monitor in training camp.