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Countdown to camp: Special teams 07.30.15 at 1:46 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’€™€™€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the offensive side of the ball and then the defense, now we close with special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker- Stephen Gostkowski, Punter- Ryan Allen, Long snapper- Joe Cardona

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Gostkowski is one of the best. In 2014 he hit 35 of his 37 field goal attempts for a career-high 94.6 percent mark, leading to his third Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All-Pro honor. He also led the league in scoring with 156 points, booted 53 kickoffs for touchbacks (tied for fifth most in the league) and hit all 51 PATs he attempted. He was rewarded with a new four-year contract extension worth $17 million after being hit with the franchise tag earlier in the offseason.

2. New coaching staff. After Scott O’Brien’s retirement following last season, there will be a new face leading the unit. Joe Judge will take over as the special teams coach and the team hired former Patriot Ray Ventrone as his assistant. Judge served as O’Brien’s assistant for each of the last few seasons, so he is used to the system. Although O’Brien is gone, it would appear much of what he preached will still be implemented. The players who have spoken so far seem excited to work with the new coaches.

3. New long snapper in town. The Patriots moved on from long snapper Danny Aiken and drafted Cardona out of Navy in the fifth-round, the highest-drafted long snapper in NFL history. His Naval assignment has been delayed until after the 2015 NFL season so that he will be able to play for this year and possibly beyond. It appears from the spring he has developed a good connection with Gostkowski and Allen.

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Read More: Countdown to Camp, Joe Cardona, Ryan Allen, Scott O'Brien
Countdown to camp: Defensive line 07.29.15 at 3:51 pm ET
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How will the Patriots replace Vince Wilfork? (Elsa/Getty Images)

How will the Patriots replace Vince Wilfork? (Elsa/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’€™€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the offensive side of the ball and now we’€™ve shifted to defense with the cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties, now we take a look at the defensive line.

Depth chart (regular-season stats via Pro Football Reference): Rob Ninkovich (53 tackles, 8 sacks), Jabaal Sheard (25 tackles, 2 sacks), Chandler Jones (37 tackles, 6 sacks) Dominique Easley (6 tackles, 1 sack), Sealver Siliga (21 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Alan Branch (14 tackles), Jake Bequette, Chris Jones (16 tackles, 3 sacks), Joe Vellano (4 tackles, 1 sack), Zach Moore, Malcom Brown (rookie), Trey Flowers (rookie)

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. It’s a different group than a year ago. While they may have lost only one player, it was their leader Vince Wilfork. Without Wilfork it will surely be a different group and they will need someone to step up and take on a leadership role, which will likely be Ninkovich. The team also went out and signed Sheard, who was a free agent after spending last season with the Browns. While they will be without the biggest guy in the middle, the talent is still there to keep up the success.

2. Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard will be good. The Patriots could have one of the best outside pass rush grouping in the entire league with these three. Ninkovich has had eight sacks in three straight seasons, Jones had six in an injury-plagued 2014 season and Sheard will benefit from having the other two players with him. These three rotating in-and-out will likely create matchup problems for opposing defenses and allow the Patriots to get constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks when they choose.

3. They will need to make more of an impact. Last season the secondary was the group which led the defense and this year it will be the front-seven with the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington in the secondary. It will likely be the opposite of things from last year, as this year it will be the front-seven taking some pressure off of the secondary rather than the other way around like last season.

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Read More: Alan Branch, chandler jones, Countdown to Camp, Dominique Easley
Countdown to camp: Linebackers 07.28.15 at 12:00 pm ET
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How will Jerod Mayo bounce back this season? (Jerome Davis/Getty Images)

How will Jerod Mayo bounce back this season after being placed on season-ending injured reserve each of the last two seasons? (Jerome Davis/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the offensive side of the ball and now we’ve shifted to defense with the cornerbacks and safeties, now we take a look at the linebackers.

Depth chart (regular-season stats via Pro Football Reference): Jamie Collins (91 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions), Jerod Mayo (37 tackles, one sack), Dont’a Hightower (61 tackles, six sacks), Dane Fletcher (28 tackles), Darius Fleming (three tackles), Eric Martin (one tackle), Geneo Grissom (rookie), James Morris, Rufus Johnson, Jonathan Freeny (11 tackles, one sack.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. One of the best young linebacker group in the league. Names such as Collins, Hightower and Mayo definitely are attention grabbers as the group has the potential to be one of the best linebacker cores in the entire NFL. Collins is entering his third season, Hightower his fourth and while Mayo is entering his eighth, he’s 29 years old and hasn’t played a full season since 2012. Provided the group stays healthy, which it has had trouble doing, there’s no doubt they will be considered one of the best in the league.

2. Jamie Collins is a freak. There isn’t a more athletic linebacker in the entire NFL. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, the Southern Mississippi product can do things not many can, both on the field and off. (Check out this video he posted to Instagram of him doing back flips this offseason.) He has the quickness of someone playing in the secondary, but the strength of a defensive lineman. At just 25 years old, Collins will be a special player to watch over the next several seasons.

3. More pressure on group this season. With the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington in the secondary, it seems like the Patriots will be putting more pressure on their front-seven than last year. Last season the secondary was able to take control of the opposition’s passing attack by shutting down wide receivers, but this year it might be a different story. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia may need to create some pressure on the quarterback with blitzing more than he’s done in the past and with the linebackers the Patriots have, it will be something to monitor.

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Read More: Countdown to Camp, Dane Fletcher, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins
Countdown to camp: Safeties at 6:43 am ET
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Devin McCourty returns as the undisputed leader of the Patriots secondary. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Devin McCourty returns as the undisputed leader of the Patriots secondary. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends, offensive line, quarterback and running backs. After a check on the cornerbacks, here’s a look at the safties.

Depth chart: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards (R), Dax Swanson

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Unlike the cornerbacks, the safeties seem to be as close to a sure thing that there is on defense. That starts with Devin McCourty, fresh from signing a five-year, $47.5 million deal, with $28.5 million guaranteed. Since moving from corner to free safety full-time in 2013, the 27-year-old Rutgers product has been a staple in the Patriots secondary. He has taken over calling all coverages and, perhaps just as importantly, providing leadership in the secondary. Darrelle Revis often pointed to McCourty’s direction and calmness as a reason for the secondary coming together the way it did in 2014.

2. Patrick Chung has emerged as a solid piece in his second go-around in New England. When Chung left after the 2012 season, there were those in New England who openly wondered exactly what the Eagles were thinking. That thought grew around the NFL when Chung struggled in Philadelphia in his lone season as a free safety, the Eagles cut him loose. Bill Belichick saw this as a chance to bring back a player with understanding of his system. He made one tweak. He gradually eased Chung back into the defense in training camp and preseason as a strong safety, a position he hadn’t played on a regular basis since his second season in 2010. It paid big dividends last year, as he made 62 tackles, starting 15 of his 16 games at strong safety. With Revis on board, Belichick was able to take a lot of deep zone pass defense responsibilities off his plate and play him in the box. There were several cases where Chung lined up as a linebacker to support in run situations. He was sixth on the team in defensive snaps in 2014.

3. Versatility is the name of the game. Belichick has always asked his young safeties learning the system to earn their roster spots by showing they can fill numerous roles, i.e. special teams. This is how Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson have hung around so long, especially Wilson. There have been times where Wilson’s days seemed numbered given his inability to earn regular defensive snaps. But that’s not where Wilson has shown his true value. “The more you can do, the better you’re going to be,” Wilson said after being drafted by Belichick in 2012. “I just come in, play special teams, be the best whatever position they play me as; just try to be the best I can. I love to play special teams. It’s a part of the game. I played it in college, I love to do it.”

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Read More: Countdown to Camp, Devin McCourty, New England Patriots, Patrick Chung
Countdown to camp: Cornerbacks 07.26.15 at 6:00 pm ET
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Bradley Fletcher (24) will have his chance to prove he belongs in New England's secondary. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Bradley Fletcher (24) will have his chance to prove he belongs in New England’s secondary. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends, offensive line, quarterback and running backs. Now, we begin our look at the defense with the cornerbacks.

Depth chart: Tarell Brown, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher, Darryl Roberts, Derek Cox, Justin Green

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. From veterans Brown, McClain and Fletcher to Butler, Ryan and even rookie Darryl Roberts, this figures to be the most competitive battle in some time in the secondary. Everyone knows the secondary won’t be the same without Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner back there. But let’s not forget the impact and stability slot corner Kyle Arrington provided. He was not someone you would put on an island but he also did a fine job within the system of playing to leverage and being sure that his guy on the inside routes were covered. As for Revis, the Patriots realize they’re losing one of the best ever to play the position but Bill Belichick has accounted for that in the past.

2. Malcolm Butler will have a chance to step up. Ever since Revis said goodbye to New England and returned to the Jets, everyone has wondered if the cornerback who saved Super Bowl XLIX was ready to step onto the scene and become a starting cornerback. There was the silly melodrama of OTAs when Butler missed his flight back to Boston the night before OTAs in March and was deemed “not ready” to participate in practice. He was with the team at film sessions This move by the team was a message (within their rights) to Butler that come regular season, make sure you’re where you need to be the night before.

3. The corners will have plenty of help. One thing is for sure with the Patriots secondary: Devin McCourty is the quarterback. He will call out all coverages and direct players to their proper spots. This is why the Patriots committed $47.5 million ($28.5 million guaranteed) over the next five seasons. The new faces in the secondary would be wise to listen to McCourty, tap his understanding of the Patriots defensive schemes and keep asking questions. Revis said this was one of the things that provided a great deal of comfort early on in his time with the Patriots.

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Read More: Bradley Fletcher, Countdown to Camp, New England Patriots, Robert McClain
Countdown to camp: Running backs at 5:44 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount heads into 2015 as the Patriots lead back. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount heads into 2015 as the Patriots lead back. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends, offensive line and quarterback. Now it’s the running backs:

Depth chart (regular-season stats via Pro Football Reference): LeGarrette Blount (125 carries, 547 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 5 TDs with both Pittsburgh and New England), Brandon Bolden (28 carries, 89 yards, 3.2 yards per carry, 1 TD), Travaris Cadet (10 carries, 32 yards, 3.2 yards per carry; 38 catches, 296 yards, 1 TD with New Orleans), Tyler Gaffney (no stats in 2014), Jonas Gray (89 carries, 412 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 5 TDs), Dion Lewis (no stats in 2014), James White (9 carries, 38 yards, 4.2 yards per carry), James Develin (fullback — 3 carries, 5 yards, 1.7 yards per carry).

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. When it comes to the Patriots backfield, plug and play is still the rule. Despite the fact that they accounted for a sizable portion of the running game last year, New England let Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley walk in free agency. (The two combined for 42 percent of the rushing yards and 43 percent of the carries from 2014.) The idea of fungible running backs is nothing new around New England; over the last 10 seasons, six different backs (Gray, Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Corey Dillon) have led the Patriots in rushing yards — in that span, only the Cardinals, Browns and Saints have had more different backs lead their team in rushing than New England. The return of Blount (despite the fact that he’ll now miss the opener) would seem to guarantee that it will be seven in 11 seasons. However, if seniority in the system is any indication, it’s worth noting that after the departure of Vereen and Ridley, the senior member of the New England backfield — in terms of time in the system — is 25-year-old Brandon Bolden, who has played a grand total of 38 regular-season games with the Patriots. We’ve mentioned this before, but the only thing that’s constant about the state of the New England running game is change.

2. The Patriots will rotate their backs. In 2014, the Patriots became the first Super Bowl winner since the 1987 Redskins to have four different running backs finish with 40 carries or more in their championship season. (That was because of a combination of injury, scheme and personnel.) Things won’t be that dramatic in 2015, but history certainly suggests that New England will again go with what will best be described as a running back-by-committee. While Blount is going to be the closest thing the team has to a lead back, expect Jonas Gray to also get some reps when it comes to working between the tackles, in addition to special teams ace Brandon Bolden. Meanwhile, Cadet and White will get run as candidates to fill the third down job. Meanwhile, Gaffney and Lewis remain wild cards when it comes to predicting their potential production in 2015.

3. For a fullback, James Develin will get plenty of reps. While he will never pile up the gaudy numbers, the former Ivy Leaguer has carved out a nice niche for himself as a member of the New England offense, as the Patriots have become one of the few teams around the league that has relied on a fullback as a key piece of the puzzle. According to Pro Football Focus, Develin was fifth in the league among fullbacks in total snaps with 259, and he graded out as one of the best in the league when it came to both pass and run blocking.
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Read More: Brandon Bolden, Countdown to Camp, James White, Jonas Gray
Countdown to camp: Quarterback 07.25.15 at 3:09 pm ET
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Tom Brady led the Patriots to a fourth Super Bowl title last season. (Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

Tom Brady led the Patriots to a fourth Super Bowl title last season. (Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends and offensive line. Now, it’s the quarterback.

Depth chart (regular-season stats via Pro Football Reference): Tom Brady (373-for-582, 64 percent, 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, nine INTs), Jimmy Garoppolo (19-for-27, 70 percent, 182 yards, one touchdown), Matt Flynn (8-for-16, 50 percent, 66 yards, one INT with Green Bay).

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Tom Brady has done things that no other quarterback has managed to accomplish. In what was one of the most challenging seasons of his career, he capped it off with a fourth Super Bowl title. And while measuring a quarterback using “wins” is a dicey proposition at best, now he can add lines to his resume that no other quarterback can claim. No quarterback has gone 13 years between Super Bowl titles. No other quarterback has won four titles in the salary cap/free agent era. And no other quarterback has won his first title (like Brady did in Super Bowl XXXVI) and then, come back to win a championship with a completely different roster around him while still with the same franchise (like Brady did in Super Bowl XLIX). While there will be debate about Brady’s status among the greats of the game, at this point, even the most ardent Deflategate truthers have to acknowledge his accomplishments. What he did against the Seahawks last February — particularly in the fourth quarter — was awe-inspiring stuff. In the final quarter against a terrific pass defense, Brady went 13-for-15 for 124 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 140.7. Given the magnitude of the moment as well as the skill set of the opponent, it was perhaps the finest late-game performance of his career. In the end, Julian Edelman is admittedly a little biased, but he summed up the feelings of many after the Super Bowl when asked about Brady. “Tom is the best ever,” Edelman said. “I’m a big Joe Montana fan. I thought he was the best and everything. He’s won four, he’s undefeated in four. But they didn’t have the salary cap back then. He had some great players around him and some great defenses and all that. Tom Brady came out here and he’s been to six Super Bowls (and) he’s won four with the salary cap. It’s hard to argue against that.”

2. Brady doesn’t go deep like he used to, but for what the Patriots ask him to do, he’s still the best in the league at following through with the game plan. It feels like we’re nitpicking here, but Brady’s deep attempts have been limited over the last two seasons. Last year, he averaged 7.06 yards per pass attempt (21st in the league) and he was at 6.92 in 2013 (22nd in the league). That’s down from a career-best of 8.6 in 2011. (He was second to Aaron Rodgers that season.) There are a few factors at play here, including the lack of a consistent deep threat in the New England system. (Would that number increase in 2015 if Aaron Dobson were on the field consistently?) And part of it is playing to the strengths of the passing game, particularly Rob Gronkowski and Edelman, who excel in short and intermediate work. But part of it is also Brady’s accuracy on the deep ball, which is not what it used to be. At the same time, he’s still doing an excellent job of hitting his targets, as his 64.1 percent completion rate in 2014 was fifth best in his career. The same is true when measuring his performance via quarterback rating, where his 97.4 mark last season was also fifth best in his career. In the end, the Patriots will likely take the tradeoff.

3. It sounds like Jimmy Garoppolo is ready to go for 2015. In an interview with his personal quarterbacking guru over the offseason, it was revealed that the backup is more than ready to go for the start of his second season in New England. “I talked to Bill (Belichick) at the combine, and I asked him how Jimmy was doing,” recalled Jeff Christensen. “He said ‘(Jimmy) looks like a linebacker. He works out like a linebacker. He acts like a linebacker. I really like him a lot, coach. You did a great job with him. Thank you.'”

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Read More: Countdown to Camp, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Flynn, Ryan Mallett
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