The New England Patriots open training camp on July 28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
How does it unfold at quarterback with Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer atop the depth chart as they vie to step into arguably the toughest role in all of the NFL (the replacement for Tom Brady)?
This is the question. The Patriots were primed to go to training camp with Stidham and Hoyer, a reflection, in part, of the promise they see in Stidham. But with Newton still unsigned in late June, and willing to accept a modest one-year deal with a minimum base salary of $1.05 million and just $550,000 guaranteed, it threw a stick of dynamite into the mix. Newton can earn up to $7.5 million in total through roster bonuses and incentives, but first he has to win the Patriots' QB1 job. He has acknowledged that potentially replacing Brady is the "elephant in the room" and it is clear his motivation is high. It has been a long time since there has been a real quarterback competition in New England, and it's on in 2020.
Is running back Sony Michel, who is coming off surgery on his foot, ready to go? And, if not, who steps up?
Michel is a lightning-rod topic on local sports radio. The 31st overall pick in the 2018 draft has had a solid start to his NFL career, but given his lofty draft status and the impressive performance of his college teammate Nick Chubb (who was selected 35th overall in '18 out of Georgia), some view him through a lens of disappointment. Michel has battled through multiple knee injuries and is now rehabbing his foot, which could open the door for 2019 third-round pick Damien Harris (Alabama) at the start of training camp. Undrafted J.J. Taylor, of Arizona, could also benefit from an extended look. This will be one of the first things to watch for as players report to camp: Does Michel open on the active/physically unable to perform list?
One point coach Bill Belichick has made is how fortunate he has been as Patriots coach to have Adam Vinatieri, then Gostkowski, as his kickers. It doesn't get much better than that. While the team has had a couple seasons where injury replacements were needed, the overall consistency of Vinatieri and Gostkowski has been a luxury few coaches have had for such an extended time. Enter Rohrwasser, who was the Patriots' highest-rated kicker in the draft. Two things that appealed to the team: his strong leg, and experience kicking in some tough conditions in college (first at Rhode Island, then Marshall). Former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Michael Lombardi highlighted Rohrwasser as an under-the-radar Patriots key in a piece for The Athletic, while noting the key role kickers play in tight games: "Probably the most significant question mark for the 2020 Patriots won't be the offense or the defense, but rather Rohrwasser. If he's the real deal, watch out."
Expectations are high for the Patriots to retain their No. 1 overall defense. Is anything holding the unit back in 2020?
The free-agent departures of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins are significant, as they were two of the unit's best players in 2019. The potential three-down emergence of 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich would go a long way toward helping fill those voids, while rookies Josh Uche (second round, Michigan) and Anfernee Jennings (third round, Alabama) might be called on early for contributions. So the development of first- and second-year players figures to be critical. And while almost everyone is back in the secondary (led by reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore), the Patriots might be a bit light on parts of the defensive line after stalwart Lawrence Guy in the middle.
What early signs are there that rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi (UCLA) and Dalton Keene (Virginia Tech) -- whom the Patriots traded up to acquire in the third round -- will be notable contributors to a position of great need?
The Patriots finished last in the NFL in tight end receptions and targets in 2019, according to research by ESPN's Stats & Information, which highlights why they were so aggressive in the draft to land Asiasi and Keene, the second and fourth players selected at the position overall. History says not to expect too much from rookies at the position, but even if the Patriots receive modest production from them alongside Matt LaCosse and third-year player Ryan Izzo, it would be an upgrade from 2019. That would, in theory, help balance out the offense by making it less receiver-reliant.