Pats' storyline on national radar

July, 18, 2013
7/18/13
4:15
PM ET
With NFL training camps set to begin, Don Banks of SI.com previews what is to come by identifying 10 intriguing questions he is looking forward to being answered. It comes as little surprise that one of the top questions for Banks -- No. 3 on his list -- involves the Patriots and the passing game:

How many Tom Brady passes will hit the ground without Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead and a rehabbing Rob Gronkowski around this preseason?

Writes Banks:
"If you've read my work for any length of time, you know I don't often buy into the prevailing sky-is-falling storylines that arise from time to time in sports. (The September 2011 Red Sox being the exception. I was bracing for impact that time.) So while the Patriots certainly appear to be in deep trouble with four of their top five 2012 pass-catchers gone and the other one (Gronkowski) having become a medical soap opera (those five accounted for 84 percent of New England's receptions last year), the numbers sound worse than what I expect the reality to be in Foxboro.

"Still, Brady and his newly constituted receiving corps have some serious ground to cover in the preseason if they're going to carry anything resembling a comfort zone into Buffalo in Week 1. Daniel Fells needs a big August to help offset the loss of Hernandez at tight end, and the new Welker, aka Danny Amendola, had better be ready to produce immediately. We've seen Brady make chicken salad out of lesser ingredients before, and the AFC East still appears less than daunting, but the Patriots are faced with reinventing themselves in the passing game this preseason and there's no time to waste.

Fair take from Banks, as one would expect, and interesting that he chose to highlight Fells as a key player because the seven-year veteran remains a bit of a wild card in the team's plans.

It was Fells who the Patriots turned to initially last year after Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm against the Colts, as he played 55 offensive snaps against the Jets and then 44 the next week against the Dolphins. It was a Fells-Hernandez 1-2 punch at tight end for those two games.

But after that, Fells fell out of favor, seemingly unable to develop the all-important connection with quarterback Tom Brady. Michael Hoomanawanui passed him on the depth chart for the rest of the year and into the playoffs.

So as we approach 2013 training camp, perhaps a Fells re-emergence is on the radar. Or maybe Hoomanawanui maintains the momentum he built at the end of last year. Rookie free agents Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford are also on the radar, along with veteran Jake Ballard (more Gronkowski insurance than Hernandez replacement based on style of play).

It's one of several unanswered questions on offense that bear watching in training camp.

To read Banks' piece, CLICK HERE.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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