It’s Jimmy Garoppolo time! Deflategate is officially over, and Tom Brady will be spending the first four games of the season on the bench. All eyes in Foxborough will be on how the Patriots deal with the balance of Brady and Garoppolo at camp. Will Bill Belichick want to keep Brady fresh at the start and give Garoppolo first-team reps?
The Patriots are still the Patriots, so common sense says that regardless of what they do, it’ll all work out, but it’ll still be impossible to avoid the specter of Brady’s suspension this summer as New England prepares to play a month without their franchise QB for the first time since 2008.
The Rookie: Bill Belichick does a lot of things right in New England, but the wide receivers he picks in the draft do not tend to pan out. Enter Malcolm Mitchell, this year’s fourth-round pick out of Georgia. His injury history is a bit troubling, but he made some highlight-reel catches at minicamp, and there’s optimism that he can be the one to buck the Pats’ unfortunate trend. How he spends his time off the field is equally intriguing: Mitchell is a children’s book author (he was named Georgia’s Children’s Author of the Year in 2016) and advocate of youth literacy.
Position Battle Spoilers: The Patriots don’t exactly have a run game that will blow anyone away. They chose not to go after any major backs available in free agency or the draft, and as a result they are left with a jumbled group farther down the depth chart gunning for the third and fourth running back slots. Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount are safe in their spots, which leaves a battle for remaining slots between veteran Donald Brown, undrafted hybrid D.J. Foster, James White, Brandon Bolden and the cut and then re-signed Tyler Gaffney. I think the Patriots still see value and potential in Bolden, who has been strong on special teams, so he’s likely to get that third spot. As for the final one, Foster and White have youth and explosiveness, but in the end I think veteran Brown will nab it. After all, Belichick and the Pats have a way with revitalizing new acquisitions who appeared to be on the decline on their old teams.
The Stat: 13, the number of different starting offensive line combinations the Patriots used during the 2015 season. The O-line was miserable last year, thanks in large part to injuries that tore apart the core. Former position coach Dante Scarnecchia was brought back to the role he held between 1999 and ’13 to fix things, and a large part of the Patriots’ success this season will hinge on whether he can create some consistency.
Preseason Watchability Guide: Garoppolo should get a fair amount of playing time when New England hosts the Panthers in Week 3, and how better to get him ready for his first regular season start than a matchup against the ferocious Kawann Short, who led Carolina’s game-breaking defense in sacks in 2015?