By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Looks like Bill Belichick liked what he saw in minicamp. For the second straight year, the Patriots have cancelled the final two OTA practices as the Super Bowl LIII champions get ready for the 2019 season.
Monday's previously scheduled practice was going to be open to the media, but the Patriots announced Monday morning that the team will not practice today or tomorrow. So the next time reporters will get to see the Pats on the practice field will be late July, when they kick off 2019 training camp.
The approach obviously didn't hurt the Patriots' ability to win the Super Bowl in 2018. Clearly, Belichick didn't feel the team would get much out of two more non-padded practices without Tom Brady in attendance. OTAs are generally more about teaching than evaluating talent, anyway, so it was more important for the younger players to get that time in. And now they can all look ahead to applying what they've learned to actually competing for roster spots.
"Yeah, young guys have to transition to everything, so they learn as they go," Belichick told reporters after the third and final mandatory minicamp practice. "They’ve been at it now for three weeks so we’ll just keep working through. It’s part of a long process."
With training camp on deck and the weather starting to brighten up around New England, it's beginning to feel a lot like football season. But there were still a few notable things to take away from Patriots minicamp, despite the light nature of the practices. So here are some things to think about as the Pats get the next month-and-change off before they kick back into gear for the 2019 season.
-- Real competition brewing at wide receiver. Maurice Harris and Braxton Berrios were the two biggest winners in this group. They both looked like they're on a mission to carve out legitimate roles in the Patriots offense. There might only be room for one of them. Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, and Phillip Dorsett all feel like roster locks at this point. Which brings me to my next point...
-- Patriots are much better off at receiver than a year ago. The 2018 receiver group was sort of like this year's team signed five Demaryius Thomases. The 31-year-old veteran has yet to make it on the field as he continues to recover from an Achilles injury and is rapidly falling behind. Last year the Patriots had Eric Decker, Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, and Cordarrelle Patterson as their main WR group behind Edelman and Dorsett. Patterson worked out in 2018, but was essentially the same player he's always been in his career. This year there's a much higher ceiling among the Patriots' receivers. Harry, Berrios, Harris, and Dontrelle Inman have significantly more upside as a collective than who ran the routes a year ago.
-- Jamie Collins, Derek Rivers could start. The talent is still there for Collins, who has never quite put it all together consistently. But he has familiarity with the organization and how Belichick runs his defense, so he has a real chance to start if he can stay consistent this summer. It's also a big camp for Rivers, who is putting in extra work and expressing confidence that he'll make a jump in his second full season. They both had run with the starters at times in minicamp. Coming off a masterful Super Bowl, the Patriots defense is as deep as ever.
-- Damien Harris making headway with Sony Michel out. It remains a mystery as to why Michel was absent from minicamp, with no injuries or surgeries reported to be holding him back since the Super Bowl. If he can't stay on the field he won't be able to keep much of a hold on the early-down back role. Meanwhile, Harris got plenty of looks in team running drills and even caught a few passes in minicamp. Belichick couldn't pass on Harris' talent when the former Alabama back fell to the Patriots in the draft. There's a chance he makes a similar impact as a rookie that Michel did in 2018.
We'll get back to reporting from Foxborough on the first day of training camp in late July.
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 protected].