Commentary

What to watch for at Pats minicamp

Updated: May 10, 2012, 9:53 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

It has been six seasons since receiver Chad Jackson wowed observers in Patriots rookie minicamp. Every year at this time, Jackson's initial impression comes back to the forefront as a reminder to be careful of jumping to conclusions.

What will unfold on Friday and Saturday at Patriots rookie minicamp is a most basic introduction. There are no full pads. There probably won't even be a full offense or defense on the field at the same time, as the Patriots have 14 total rookies (7 draft picks, 7 free agents), not including any tryouts.

Media members are scheduled to observe 35 minutes of minicamp practices each day. The rookies will be made available to reporters for 30 minutes before the afternoon practice.

With that important context, here are some things that this observer will be eying (assuming drills are run when media members are present):

1. Chandler Jones' athleticism. At 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds, with 35.5-inch arm length, Jones has unique physical traits. This is the first chance to see how they look on the practice field in an NFL setting. Bill Belichick called him an end-of-the-line player, meaning he fits as a defensive end in a four-man line or an outside linebacker in an odd-man front.

[+] EnlargeNew England Patriots
AP Photo/Charles KrupaChandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower will make their debut on the Patriots practice field on Friday.

2. Dont'a Hightower's alignment. The first-round draft choice from Alabama has Mike Vrabel-type versatility, according to Belichick. That means he could line up at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, in a two-point stance, or in a three-point stance. This will be a chance to observe where the coaching staff begins the process of using such a Swiss Army knife.

3. Tavon Wilson over the tight end. The off-the-radar second-round pick might have been rated higher by the Patriots than any team in the NFL, and one reason is his potential to match up against tight ends. If there are coverage drills, it will provide an opportunity to see Wilson in this aspect of the game.

4. Alfonzo Dennard and his availability. The seventh-round draft choice from Nebraska was arrested April 21 for suspicion of assaulting a police officer, an incident that Belichick acknowledged hurt his stock. The Patriots did not make Dennard available to reporters (outside of the team's website) after the draft. What does he have to say about the incident and how it affected his draft standing? Or do the Patriots keep him away from the media to avoid questioning?

5. Any rookie free agents stand out? The club announced its seven-member rookie free- agent class on Thursday, although it might be just six on the field as Iowa offensive lineman Markus Zusevics has torn his left pectoral muscle at the combine. One can often tell quickly if there is anyone in the group that doesn't belong. Mississippi running back Brandon Bolden was considered a draftable prospect, but off-field concerns likely contributed to him falling right out of the draft. This is his chance for a fresh start.

6. Jersey numbers. Although not finalized, rookies will be assigned jersey numbers. Jones wore 99 at Syracuse, while Hightower wore 30 at Alabama. In Hightower's case, NFL linebackers aren't eligible to wear numbers in the 30s.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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