Some areas that I'm most interested to watch at Tuesday's organized team activity open to reporters:
1. Early signs of Brady-Amendola synergy. The Tom Brady/Wes Welker connection produced incredible results in 2007 and from 2009-2012, but now it's a new chapter. When comparing Welker and his replacement Danny Amendola (wearing Troy Brown's old No. 80), there are some common threads when it comes to quickness, change-of-direction skills and ability to pick up yardage after the catch. Amendola might be a bit faster from a straight-line perspective and is a little bigger than Welker. Interested to see how it looks, even in this setting with no pads and contact.
2. Progress report on Ballard. One of the more intriguing stories from last preseason was the Patriots' waiver claim of Giants tight end Jake Ballard, which came as the Giants waived Ballard with the intention of placing him on injured reserve (knee). Ballard, of course, had injured the knee in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. The Patriots intercepted the move, paid Ballard a full salary for 2012 while he rehabbed, and now Ballard could become a key part of the tight end group in 2013, especially as Rob Gronkowski rehabs. The Patriots have been cautious with Ballard, feeling that there is no reason to push him too hard at this point, but there have been no unexpected setbacks in his recovery. We'll see how much, if at all, Ballard participates while attempting to get a feel for how well he's running. Ballard was never known for his speed, but was a solid short-to-intermediate presence for the Giants when healthy.
3. Eyes on Dobson and the outside receivers. There's a big void to fill at outside receiver, and one figures the Patriots will give second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson every chance to seize it. But there is plenty of competition, and let's see how Dobson keeps up with some of the more experienced pass-catchers on the roster, such as Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Lavelle Hawkins. The pace of an NFL practice is different than what Dobson experienced at Marshall, and Brady is as demanding as they come. A good early test for Dobson.
4. Trickle-down effect of Spikes' absence. With starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes staying away from the voluntary sessions, it will provide an opportunity for someone else to step in alongside top players Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower. The versatility of the linebacking corps means there are multiple options to consider. Dane Fletcher, returning from a torn ACL that sidelined him for the entire 2012 regular season, would be one candidate to step in for Spikes. Perhaps second-year man Mike Rivera. And there's always top draft choice Jamie Collins, who Bill Belichick said began his work at linebacker in rookie minicamp, although he doesn't project to the middle.
5. Brady breaking in new receivers. One can't overlook the obvious. Quarterback Tom Brady says he's never felt better throwing the football. In this type of setting, there should be a lot of that, and there isn't a quarterback in the NFL who is adjusting to a more revamped receiver corps. This is crucial on-field work, and Brady's role as a coach-on-the-field -- in addition to getting in his own work -- should be a central focus. He runs the show and it's always a treat to watch.