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Saturday, July 19, 2014
Bold predictions for Patriots camp

By Mike Reiss

Last year’s bold predictions turned out OK.

Undrafted long-shot receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was deemed a keeper early and he followed through on that promise to earn a roster spot, while had Devin McCourty not been snubbed for the Pro Bowl, it would have been a rare two-for-two bold-predictions performance.

Maybe the only thing sweeter would be for receiver Greg Salas to ring up 61 catches this year. (We may never live that one down.)

So let’s see what we came up with for 2014:

Coming off an 11.5-sack year, could Chandler Jones be in for an even bigger season in 2014?
Chandler Jones will be among the NFL leaders with 15 or more sacks. The 2012 first-round draft choice went from six sacks in his rookie season to 11.5 last year. We think he’s ready to take another step, to the point that he could be mentioned among the league’s elite edge rushers. Why the conviction? Part of it is that with better coverage in the secondary, quarterbacks could be forced to hold on to the ball longer, creating more chances for Jones. There’s also the belief that perhaps less is more -- Jones might not be called on to play 98 percent of the defensive snaps like he was last year, keeping him fresher for the got-to-have-it pass-rush situations.

If there is a surprise veteran cut on defense, it will be Tommy Kelly. The veteran defensive tackle is coming off a torn ACL after being limited to five games last season, is 33 years old, and restructured his contract in the offseason. That’s a three-pronged combination that makes us feel like he’s anything but a sure-fire lock to stick. Kelly was excellent in the few games he played last season, stayed in Foxborough throughout the year to rehab, and expressed optimism about his health in spring camps. The Patriots don’t want to have a repeat of last year when they got caught short at defensive tackle because of injuries, and there would be risk in cutting Kelly with that in mind, but perhaps he could be brought back like the Patriots once did with Gerard Warren.

Rookie running back James White will make an early impact. Most of the draft buzz was understandably about top picks Dominique Easley (first round, 29th overall) and Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, 62nd overall). But White, the fourth-round pick from Wisconsin, shouldn’t be overlooked at running back. White had a solid spring minicamp "season", and his combination of production as a rusher and receiver appears to be an ideal fit for a Patriots offense that values a diverse skill set. We’ll define “early impact” this way: White will play more than 20 percent of the offensive snaps this season.

The Lombardi Trophy is coming back to New England. One way for the Patriots to negate the memory of “The Helmet Catch” is to win a Super Bowl in the same venue it happened -- University of Phoenix Stadium. But it takes more than a solid storyline to make such a bold prediction. Some luck will have to be part of it, in addition to good health, but the feeling here is that an overall revamped defense will be the key, and it starts with the addition of Darrelle Revis.