Updating Patriots positional battles: LeGarrette Blount, Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson all starting strong
|08.10.13 at 1:28 pm ET|
In May, we took a look at some of the positional battles we were most excited to see in Patriots training camp. Now, almost two weeks into camp and with one preseason game already in the books, we take a look at how some of those battles are shaping up.
Running back: Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount. We didn’t include Stevan Ridley Shane Vereen and Leon Washington on this list because it’s pretty clear their spots are secure at this point. While the battle between Bolden and Blount was a little underwhelming through the first two weeks of camp (due in large part to the fact that there has been relatively little hitting, and physical, between-the-tackles yardage is the presumed specialty of the Bolden-Blount combo), Blount really opened some eyes on Friday night with a team-high 101 rushing yards — including a 51-yard touchdown run on a slo-mo reverse — and now appears to have the edge on Bolden. Bolden did get some reps late in the game (and also picked up a questionable running-into-the-kicker penalty) and finished with four carries for 14 yards. Bolden is coming back slowly from offseason surgery, but he does need to have a good week to answer Blount’s strong performance in the preseason opener.
Defensive tackle opposite Vince Wilfork: Kyle Love, Armond Armstead, Tommy Kelly. We put this list together the day Love was cut, so we can effectively eliminate him. Meanwhile, Armstead has a murky future because of a recent surgery. But even if they were on the field in Foxboro on a regular basis, they’d be hard-pressed to replicate the work of Kelly, who has emerged as the clear leader at the position. Kelly started at the defensive tackle spot opposite Wilfork on Friday and looked impressive, caving in the pocket and even getting to the quarterback (along with Chandler Jones) to force an early sack and a fumble. There might be a temptation to overuse him because he’s playing so well, but the 32-year-old has shown no signs of wear, at least at this point. The only question is who is competing to work as Kelly’s backup, a group that includes Joe Vellano and Marcus Forston. Forston popped up on the radar a few times Friday night, but right now, the job is Kelly’s to lose.
X receiver: Aaron Dobson, Donald Jones, Josh Boyce, Mike Jenkins. Jones was cut before camp and Jenkins, who has done relatively well over the first two weeks, wasn’t on the field on Friday. Boyce nearly had a touchdown catch (if not for a badly thrown ball by Ryan Mallett), and played well. But at this point, the leaders are Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, both of whom flashed positively on Friday night. The 6-foot-1, 193-pound Thompkins had four catches (on five targets) for 23 yards, while the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Dobson had two catches (on eight targets) for 35 yards. There were some rookie moments — dropped balls and missed connections — but there was also a lot of good. That includes crisp routes and a nice job on contested catches that smaller receivers would have had an issue with. (For what it’s worth, with Thompkins, he was able to make adjustments and appeared to run some of the routes that Aaron Hernandez favored when he was a part of the New England offense.)
Strong safety: Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson. Lots of bodies were cycling through the secondary on Friday night, as starting free safety Devin McCourty wasn’t in the lineup and the coaching staff wanted to get a good look at some different personnel combinations. As a result, it’s probably a little early to try and figure out who might be a starter based on what happened against the Eagles. But to this point in camp, it certainly appears Adrian Wilson has done everything that’s been asked of him, and has to be considered the favorite to land the job. The oversized safety has shown a nice ability to pick up the New England system, and his fellow defensive backs have spoke glowingly of how fast he’s become a part of the Patriots defense. It’s interesting to note that on several occasions in camp, we’ve seen a three-safety set of McCourty, Gregory and Adrian Wilson, an intriguing combo considering that McCourty and Gregory have experience as corners.
Backup defensive ends: Jake Bequette, Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, Jamie Collins, Michael Buchanan. An interesting bunch — while Collins really isn’t a defensive end (more of a linebacker), we’re going to put him here because of the versatility he displayed while moving around to several different spots on Friday night. Bequette and Buchanan both played extensive snaps, and figure to be in the mix right now. One of the most eye-catching aspects to this group is the fact that Cunningham (who didn’t play Friday night) and Marcus Benard are really ends, but could have enough positional versatility to help in their quest for playing time, and ultimately, a spot on the 53-man roster. Cunningham has bumped inside as an interior pass rushing presence on occasion, while the Patriots did the same with Benard Friday night. The former Browns defensive lineman came away with two sacks against the Eagles, bolstering his chances to find one of the spots behind Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the New England depth chart.