Camp preview: New England Patriots

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Mike Reiss examines the three biggest issues facing the New England Patriots heading into training camp.

Rob Gronkowski's progress: The fifth-year tight end has said multiple times in the offseason that there have been no setbacks in his recovery from a torn ACL, which puts him in position to be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 in Miami. This will be similar to 2010 training camp, when all eyes were on receiver Wes Welker and how soon he returned to the practice field after tearing his ACL late in the previous season. Does Gronkowski start training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list? Or is he a full participant from the get-go? Potential No. 1 receiver Aaron Dobson, who underwent surgery on a stress fracture in his left foot in early March, falls into a similar category. The health and availability of Gronkowski and Dobson connect to one of the more relevant questions for the team: Are there enough high-quality weapons for quarterback Tom Brady?

Health report along the defensive line: If the Patriots’ plans come to fruition, they will have a better pass rush in 2014, in part because they are deeper and more talented along the defensive line. But some of the players they figure to count on are coming off significant injuries -- end Will Smith (torn ACL) and tackles Vince Wilfork (ruptured Achilles), Tommy Kelly (torn ACL), and Dominique Easley (torn ACL). All made notable process through rehabilitation and spring practices. The next question to answer for them: How do things hold up once the pads go on? Because there is an element of unknown in this area, and Armond Armstead was ultimately forced to retire, the Patriots made a competitive offer to sign veteran Kevin Williams before Williams elected to sign with the Seahawks instead.

Development of young OL talent under new coach Dave DeGuglielmo: There is a significant transition on the coaching staff as DeGuglielmo steps in for retired and widely respected offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who had a knack for developing young talent. Coincidentally, the Patriots selected three offensive linemen in the draft: center Bryan Stork (fourth round, 105th overall), right tackle Cameron Fleming (fourth round, 140th overall) and right guard Jon Halapio (sixth round, 179th overall). Each rookie should make the roster, so the question is how fast they might get up to speed to challenge for starting jobs, particularly at center and right guard. The Patriots have starting roles locked in at left tackle (Nate Solder), left guard (Logan Mankins) and right tackle (Sebastian Vollmer), and the competition at the other two spots bears watching, as does the transition from Scarnecchia to DeGuglielmo.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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