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5 things to watch in what is very important week for Patriots

Ryan Hannable
May 20, 2018 - 10:27 pm

Monday is a big day at Gillette Stadium as it is the start of Phase 3 of the Patriots offseason workout program, which means 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work can begin on the field in the first OTA session.

While the team still isn’t in pads, it is as close to football as the spring can get. The first OTA session of the spring will be held on Monday with the media being permitted to watch on Tuesday. Tuesday is also a big day as Bill Belichick is expected to meet with the media.

Here’s five things to look for this week.

1. Do Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski show up?

This is the No. 1 news story of the week, as the two players haven’t attended any of the voluntary workouts yet, but Phase 3 is the most important part with so much teaching taking place and actual football happening on the field. The two have been working out on their own and some speculated they would make their return now once the real on-field work begins. It will be very interesting if they do not show up. The first two phases can be viewed as really no big deal to miss as long as players are keeping in shape on their own, but once real on-field work is missed, then it becomes a real story. Brady has said on record he wanted this offseason to be more about his family and has done quite a bit of traveling. He was in New York City this weekend, so perhaps it could have been one last weekend away before getting to work with the rest of his teammates. It's hard to imagine Brady missing an actual on-field practice at this time of year, as even when he worked out in California, he returned for OTAs. For Gronkowski, his situation is a bit different as it seems like he's waiting on a new contract. It could be a case when until he gets a new deal, he isn't stepping on the field. It’s also worth pointing out what a bad visual it would be Tuesday if the two players were not there — video of Brian Hoyer throwing passes to Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister is not what Patriots fans want to be seeing in May. 

2. How do the receivers look?

Since the sessions are not in pads, it’s more of a glorified passing camp with the skill position players getting more out of it than the linemen. The wide receiver position will be among the most competitive on the entire roster during training camp and this is a chance for players to get a head start. The depth chart has Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews and Riley McCarron. It will be interesting to see how newcomers Patterson and Matthews are, and then how Edelman and Mitchell look coming back from injuries. Looking ahead, it would appear Dorsett, Patterson, Britt and Matthews are competing for two, maybe three, roster spots. This is another reason why it’s important for Brady to attend because if he doesn’t, he’s missing out on valuable time to make connections with his receivers, especially the newcomers.

3. Who is missing due to injury?

There are a number of players who are coming back from season-ending injuries last year and if they are on the field this week, it’s a sign they are pretty much fully recovered. If an injured player is not present, it’s not the end of the world as the end goal is being fully healthy for training camp. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia already said tackles Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon, along with guard Joe Thuney will not participate. Other players to keep an eye on are Edelman, Mitchell, Dont’a Hightower, Harvey Langi, Derek Rivers, Vincent Valentine, Cyrus Jones, Nate Ebner and Jonathan Jones.

4. Who will step up at cornerback?

New England will be looking to replace Malcolm Butler as the No. 2 cornerback behind Stephon Gilmore and it seems like it will come down to Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty. There’s also Cyrus and Jonathan Jones, as well as rookie Duke Dawson who will be battling for the No. 3 cornerback spot. Like receiver, this is another position that will see a lot of competition between now and the final 53-man roster being finalized. These OTA and minicamp sessions are a good chance for corners to show off their coverage skills, as like was mentioned before, it’s essentially a glorified passing camp.

5. What will Belichick say?

The coach is likely done talking about Super Bowl LII and the decision to bench Butler, but it will be interesting to see what he has to say about the offseason thus far. It’s likely he will be asked about Brady and Gronkowski’s absences, as well as any update on Alex Guerrero’s status with the team. It’s likely the coach gives nothing, but the way he answers these questions could be telling. It is also worth noting Belichick typically doesn’t speak during OTAs and waits until mandatory minicamp to address the media.

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