New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The New England Patriots will be practically devoid of news over the next month. Good news or neutral news, anyway. The hope is that nothing bad pops up, whether it’s related to the team on or off the field, and everyone reports to training camp when it opens to the public for the first time on Thursday, July 26.

Fans will flood the Gillette Stadium practice fields for the first time on that date, and for many, it will signal the actual start of football season. Bill Belichick will look toward getting the team ready for the season, more specifically the Houston Texans in the season opener. And beyond (hopefully) the return of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to practicing with the team, there will be plenty of storylines for a team that has a good amount of roster spots to settle before the 2018 opener.

So with that, here’s a quick, absurdly early look at four things to think about ahead of the start of training camp:

1. Will Gronk have a new contract within the next month? And if the tight end does not have a new contract, will he show up to camp? The latest reports on his negotiations with the Patriots are that a deal is likely but not imminent, and that he avoided voluntary offseason workouts to preserve his health ahead of signing the next deal. He didn’t hold out of mandatory minicamp, which would have been the biggest shot possible at the team. But if Gronkowski isn’t signed by July 26, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll resume his mild holdout until he is.

2. How will the cornerbacks shake out? Between Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Jason McCourty, and rookies Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, and J.C. Jackson, among other first-timers … At least three of these guys will not make the 53-man roster. Stephon Gilmore might be the only true lock at cornerback, but second-round pick Dawson is extremely likely to make the team as well. The two Joneses will enter camp on the bubble, especially after Jackson and Crossen impressed when they took the field in minicamp. Gilmore has a chance to be a legit lockdown corner in 2018, but behind him is going to be one of camp’s most intriguing roster battles.

3. Who’s the odd man out at running back?┬áMike Gillislee worked hard and looked solid in minicamp, but it’s clear that he’s behind, at the very least, James White and Rex Burkhead in the pecking order. And don’t forget about rookie first-round pick Sony Michel, who’s the last 2018 draft pick left to sign. Jeremy Hill is still in the mix, but he’s signed for minimal money and is redundant with Gillislee. There’s a chance the Pats go with one of the power backs between Gillislee and Hill if Michel isn’t quite ready for that role, but only one.

4. Can Jacob Hollister and Riley McCarron maintain their momentum? As far as young or new weapons for Brady, tight end Jacob Hollister and wide receiver Riley McCarron are among the most intriguing. Hollister looked impressive in minicamp, making catches all over the field and often while contested. McCarron, meanwhile, has a chance to step in as the team’s traditional slot receiver while Julian Edelman is out. And it’s fair to wonder how Edelman will look from here on out in his career, while McCarron could possibly give a glimpse to the future at the position.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.