The first day of training camp is in the books for the 2018 New England Patriots. The pads aren’t on yet – that comes on Saturday – and Thursday’s practice was light on intensity. But there were still some details to take away from the Patriots’ return to the practice fields at Gillette Stadium.
Most of the big takeaways came from who was lining up where on both sides of the ball, rather than what those players did. It’s virtually impossible to tell how things are really going, especially on the lines, before full-pad practices. But the specific roles of certain guys spoke volumes about where they’re at in their progression and how the Patriots view them as of Thursday.
Here’s what I took away from my first full day (ever) observing Patriots training camp:
— Sony Michel got some reps as a starting running back during red zone drills – there were a lot of those, by the way. The rookie back, whom the Patriots took 31st overall in the 2018 draft, caught a screen pass from Tom Brady early on in the team drills. He really has yet to turn heads with the ball in his hands, but there’s plenty of time for that and maybe it happens when they put the pads on and the running game kicks it up a gear.
Even if the Patriots don’t use Michel as a bell cow back right away, they clearly believe in his blocking. He was as a lead blocker during some kickoff drills, and also may already be the best pass-protecting back on the roster.
— For now, Phillip Dorsett appears to be first in line after Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan in the wide receiver pecking order. That may not be a surprise, considering Dorsett’s relative seniority compared to the rest of the depth chart. But the former Colts wideout never made much of an impression in 2017, until making a big catch in the second half of the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Dorsett looks to be gaining Brady’s trust, which is arguably the most important trait for a Patriots receiver. He caught a touchdown and two other throws from No. 12 during team drills, and also worked closely with him and Edelman in a smaller drill that had him catching on the inside. The Patriots could end up trying to use Dorsett’s quickness in the slot during the first four games of the season while Edelman serves his four-game suspension.
— Eric Rowe played with the starting defense opposite Stephon Gilmore at cornerback. Perhaps my prediction that Rowe would end up being a surprise cut wasn’t so prescient. The book is far from closed on how the corners will shake out here. But it appears that, for now, Rowe has the inside track to end up the No. 2 starting corner and Malcolm Butler’s de facto replacement.
Gilmore, by the way, was the first player on the field for the Patriots on Thursday morning and had another great day. He has a legit shot at emerging as a true lockdown No. 1 corner in his second season in New England.
Stephon Gilmore first on the practice field for the #Patriots. pic.twitter.com/tGE8YwUyt4— Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff) July 26, 2018
— Receiver Riley McCarron may not get many offensive snaps if he makes the 53-man roster, but he could bring some value as a returner. He continued to catch some balls during return drills on Thursday, with Cordarrelle Patterson still the clear leader to be the team’s kick returner. McCarron could carve himself a role as the punt returner while Edelman is out, or perhaps even after No. 11 returns.
— At one point early in the practice, the skies opened up and it absolutely poured on the fields. The defense was running a fumble recovery drill at the time, with players diving and flopping all over the place scrambling to grab loose balls. Bill Belichick probably loved the timely assist from Mother Nature, which certainly made the drill a little more challenging.
— The starting offensive line, from left to right: Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon. Brown is the clear leader to earn the left tackle spot to start camp. It’s also a positive development that Cannon was back in the fold after being absent from most of the team’s workouts that were open to the media.
Cannon spoke to reporters after practice and respectfully refused to talk or answer questions about last season, the majority of which the right tackle missed with an ankle injury. He’s “moving forward” and excited to get back to actual football.
— The defensive line to start the red zone drills went, from left to right: Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Adrian Clayborn. Shelton, in particular, looks to be gaining steam as a potential regular on the interior next to Brown. Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, and Adam Butler rotated in on subsequent plays.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
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 email@example.com.