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Thursday, June 13, 2013
Momentum builders in offseason camps

By Mike Reiss & Field Yates

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick said this week that Patriots players not on the field during minicamp practices were falling behind, which was a reminder of the importance of what was unfolding.

With this in mind, which players built the most momentum over the last four weeks?

Reporters were present for five of the team's 12 practices, and there were a few guidelines we used in making our choices.

Linemen were eliminated unless it was a special case where a coach or something out of the norm swayed the vote. In a non-contact camp geared mostly toward the passing game, there just isn't enough information to go on.

Also, a player had to be in attendance for the duration of the camp to qualify. Thus, someone like quarterback Tim Tebow -- who arrived on Tuesday -- wouldn't be a consideration.

Danny Amendola
Newcomer WR Danny Amendola (left) stood out at OTAs and mini-camp as the best skill player on the field.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola
Tom Brady talked earlier this offseason about how certain wide receivers (he named Deion Branch and Wes Welker as examples) have a firm grasp on the offense almost immediately upon arrival. From the look of it during OTAs and minicamp, Danny Amendola is following the same path, as he's been the best skill player on the field from this vantage point and looks to have developed a rapport with Brady. Given the transition at the receiver position this offseason, the Patriots will be counting on Amendola to play a major role in 2013. He's been quick, shifty, reliable catching the football and fast down the field. He has the makings of a big-time weapon for this offense. With both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez sitting out due to their respective recoveries, Amendola has stood out even more.

Defensive end Jake Bequette
After what amounted to a redshirt season as a rookie in 2012, Bequette will look to establish himself in the defensive end/edge player rotation for his sophomore campaign. Without pads, it's been difficult to entirely assess the work of any player, particularly a lineman, but Bequette's movement skills and overall build look improved from last season. With the Patriots opting not to bring back veteran Trevor Scott, at least to this point, Bequette may find himself propelled into a rotational role behind Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. Other players who appear to be in consider for a top reserve role at that spot include Justin Francis, Jermaine Cunningham and Jamie Collins. Bequette could contribute on special teams as well.

Marcus Cannon
Working at right guard, Marcus Cannon (right) received top-unit repetitions and praise from offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon
Working exclusively at right guard in the absence of starter Dan Connolly, the third-year blocker received top-unit repetitions and praise from offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia: "Love his physicality. Love his passion for the game. He's a smart kid, a great kid to coach, he's driven to be very good. I think he's a really good tackle. [What we're doing in OTAs with him at guard] is trying to get this guy to make himself as valuable a player as we can, and valuable for us. We have five starters and if we lose a guy we have to have a guy that is capable of getting in there and doing a great job. So we want to train him at guard, and we're going to give him more tackle work as we go forward in this minicamp. I like what he's doing. I like how he's doing it. Every day is a growth day for him. He's a special kid. He's a starting-quality player. I love the kid. I think he's a good player."

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling
Don't count him out just yet. The 2011 high second-round pick (33rd overall) hasn't met expectations in his first two seasons, in part because of injuries, but he appeared to be moving very well in practices and was consistently around the ball. The point had previously been made that Dowling's situation resembles what 2008 second-round pick Terrence Wheatley faced entering his third season -- a make-or-break year -- but it's now hard to imagine Dowling not making the roster if he performs like he did over the last four weeks. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, he brings good size to the position. One question remains: Can he do it when the pads come on?

Tight end Zach Sudfeld
An undrafted free agent out of Nevada, he benefited from a thinned tight end position with starters Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez not participating in practice, and Jake Ballard limited at times. At one point, he worked on one field with quarterback Tom Brady while most of the team was on the other field for special-teams work. Sudfeld has good size (6-7, 250), runs well, and seemed to catch everything in his direction. He maintained a consistency from start to finish that bodes well for him come training camp. From a pure pass-catching perspective, there seemed to be a lot of positives over the last four weeks. When the pads come on, his blocking will be put to the test.

Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins
He may not be familiar to all Patriots fans, but Thompkins has caught the eye of those in attendance at offseason workouts, often aligning alongside veteran wide receivers in the offensive formation. Thompkins might not have a particular trait that stands out (he has good size, speed and quickness, but nothing overly flashy), but he's continued to catch most balls thrown his way and made catches in competitive catch situations. Most of all, he's been consistent during the time that we've seen him work. Coaches look for reliability at the receiver position, and Thompkins appears to be the same guy each time he takes the field. He's an early (perhaps too early) candidate for an undrafted rookie who could stick around on the active roster.

(Coming Friday: Players still looking to build the desired momentum.)