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7 things we’re watching for this week at Patriots minicamp

06.16.14 at 1:25 pm ET
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With the Patriots set to hold mandatory minicamp this week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), here are seven things we’ll be keeping an eye on throughout the week.

1. Defensive line – The Patriots have a few questions when it comes to what’s going on up front, including what to make of young defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who missed all of last season because of a mysterious ailment. In addition, veterans Vince Wilfork (Achilles), Tommy Kelly (knee) and Will Smith (knee) continue to work their way back to full health, while first-round pick Dominique Easley (knee) has been brought along slowly as well. How have youngsters like Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga been able to progress after a full year in the system? And can they take advantage of the reps if the veterans are on the shelf for part of this week’s minicamp? It’ll also be interesting to hear from Wilfork, who had an eventful offseason but has mostly stayed silent since the postseason loss to the Broncos.

2. Health – Tight end Rob Gronkowski put in some time on the field with his teammates throughout the OTAs, but more often than not he then retreated to the practice bubble with a rehab crew for the rest of the session. Where is he at this stage of his rehab, and can be sustain a full practice with the rest of his teammates? (In that same vein, a handful of injured players, including special teamer Matthew Slater and offensive tackle Nate Solder, have been part of that rehab group.)

3. Safety – The spot opposite Devin McCourty is one of the only real positional battles on the defensive side of the ball for the Patriots, and even though it’s early in the process, there are a few possibilities, including Logan Ryan, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson. (For what it’s worth, last year’s starter Steve Gregory is still available as a free agent.) Among those players still on the roster, Harmon saw the most action at the position last season, and so he’s the closest thing New England has to an incumbent at the spot

4. Kick returner – With the offseason departure of LeGarrette Blount to Pittsburgh, that leaves a special teams opening, and by the looks of what happened during the OTAs, there are a handful of candidates for the position, including Josh Boyce and Shane Vereen, as well as rookies Roy Finch and Jeremy Gallon. Can any one of them step up and seize the position before the start of training camp?

5. Wide receiver – The status of Dobson is in no doubt this week because of his foot injury — one report says he won’t be available — and so that casts some doubt about where the position stands at this point in the spring. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola figure to be the two top options, while newcomer Brandon LaFell continues to progress in the system. With the understanding that Slater is considered a wide receiver and the team usually carries between five and six receivers, that could leave Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins and the rest of the receivers angling for a one or two available spots. Thompkins can distinguish himself and solidify a roster spot with a good week of minicamp, while Boyce also has potential special teams experience to drawn upon in any sort of battle for a roster spot.

6. Rookies – In addition to seeing where Easley is at this stage of his development, minicamp will provide an opportunity to watch the rest of the first-year players and their ability to build on what they learned throughout the OTA process. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was a mixed bag when stepping in for Ryan Mallett last week, but he has been able to stand out among the rookies (and has been praised by some of the veterans) for his ability to command the huddle. Center Bryan Stork took a lot of snaps last week, while tackle Cameron Fleming will be in for his first extended series of practices following Stanford’s graduation. And the undersized Gallon could be the latest seventh-round draft pick to land a roster spot.

7. Attendance – Not that this has been a problem for the Patriots throughout the spring — according to reports, the players who weren’t present for OTAs all had excused absences — but the minicamp sessions are mandatory. (According to the collective bargaining agreement, the OTAs are not mandatory.)

Here’s this week’s schedule for the Patriots. (While the sessions are open to the media, they are closed to the public.)

Tuesday
8:30 a.m. Patriots coach Bill Belichick media availability.
11 a.m. — 12:45 p.m. Media availability at practice.
Approx. 12:45 p.m. Player media availability on the field immediately after practice.

Wednesday
11 a.m. — 12:45 p.m. Media availability at practice.
Approx. 12:45 p.m. Player media availability on the field immediately after practice, including quarterback Tom Brady.

Thursday
11 a.m. — 12:45 p.m. Media availability at practice.
Approx. 12:45 p.m. Player media availability on the field immediately after practice.

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