New England Patriots

Tom Brady takes the field for the New England Patriots before minicamp on June 4, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Patriots may be coming off yet another Super Bowl championship, but that doesn’t mean they lack things to figure out before they kick off the 2019 season.

Rob Gronkowski has retired and the tight end position has undergone a full reset. The cornerbacks are so crowded, Bill Belichick likely has to move a roster regular from 2018. For the second straight season, there’s little certainty at wide receiver after Julian Edelman.

That’s just a few of the roster-building matters that the Patriots face as they get ready for 2019 training camp, which officially begins public practices next Thursday, July 25. Rookies will report on the 21st with veterans coming on the 24th.

Here’s a rundown of 10 big questions for the Patriots with training camp back on the horizon.

1. Will this year’s Tom Brady be any different?

Tom Brady and Matthew Slater take the field before practice at Patriots mandatory minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Tom Brady and Matthew Slater take the field before practice at Patriots mandatory minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Brady joined Twitter this offseason, often using his handle in conjunction with his Instagram page to chronicle how he’s trained (and who he’s trained with) away from Gillette. Some of his sessions took place around the same time he was absent from OTAs for the second straight year. Brady also reportedly bulked up as part of his preparation for 2019.

Will a bigger Brady throw the ball any differently than the famously lean TB12 method Brady of the past few seasons? And will his side work with receivers like N’Keal Harry and Josh Gordon translate to a better camp and more productive 2019?

2. Who emerges at tight end?

Tight end Ryan Izzo (85) heads to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Tight end Ryan Izzo (85) heads to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

The Patriots are never going to find another Gronk, so it’s perhaps responsible that they didn’t overextend themselves for a top draft prospect or trade for Kyle Rudolph. They went way in the other direction, though, signing ex-Bronco Matt LaCosse and old friend Ben Watson as free agents before signing undrafted rookie Andrew Beck. Only Stephen Anderson spent any time on the 53-man roster in 2018. Rounding out the group is second-year TE Ryan Izzo out of Florida State.

None of these guys are close to sure things and Watson is serving a four-game suspension to start the season. But someone’s got to take the snaps and it’s likely that one out of this group will play a ton of them. I consider LaCosse the de facto leader in the clubhouse at this point, but Izzo deserves a fair shot after a redshirt rookie year.

3. How does wide receiver shake out?

May 23, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry catches a pass during organized team activities at Gillette Stadium practice field. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

May 23, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry catches a pass during organized team activities at Gillette Stadium practice field. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

While there remains plenty of uncertainty at wideout, the Patriots are still in much better shape at the position than they were at this time a year ago. The 2018 receiver class was like they signed five Demaryius Thomases. This time, Thomas is their only receiver who is both older than 30 and

recovering from a major injury. Edelman and Dontrelle Inman are 33 and 30, but healthy. As Bill Belichick’s first receiver taken in the first round, Harry has more upside than anyone they’ve brought in since Brandin Cooks – but he arrives with little in the way of strong precedent for good rookie receivers in New England. Free-agent signing Maurice Harris had an impressive minicamp. Braxton Berrios is already in Foxborough. Josh Gordon still isn’t reinstated and until then, there’s no reason to expect him to be in the picture – despite recently working out with Brady.

But despite this year’s improved depth and a bigger, taller pool of receivers, there may be only one open spot for active rosters. Edelman and Harry are locks, while special teams captain Matthew Slater counts on the roster as a WR. Dorsett has a very good chance of staying, too. So expect a real battle for the fifth spot between Berrios, Harris, Thomas, and Inman.

4. What will the pass-rushers look like?

Defensive end Derek Rivers (95) heads to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Defensive end Derek Rivers (95) heads to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

This is a big year for certain key pieces on the edge. Is Derek Rivers ready to finally make the jump to a regular role? Will Michael Bennett outperform his salary in his likely quest for another raise next year? It’s also a big year for figuring out exactly what the Patriots have in Deatrich Wise Jr., who has flashed with his athleticism as a pass-rusher but still needs to round out his game and show more consistency.

John Simon, Keionta Davis, and Ufomba Kamalu probably aren’t all making the team. In fact, the only edge rusher who is truly guaranteed a spot could be rookie Chase Winovich out of Michigan.

5. Who is the Patriots’ odd man out at cornerback?

Patriots defensive backs (L-R) Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, and Jonathan Jones head to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Patriots defensive backs (L-R) Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, and Jonathan Jones head to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

The drafting of Joejuan Williams in the second round should have set off alarms for every Patriots cornerback not named Stephon Gilmore. Between Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Keion Crossen, and Duke Dawson? Someone’s got to go. And don’t be so quick to say it’ll be Dawson, a 2018 second-round pick – even Ras-I Dowling (2011) and Jermaine Cunningham (2010) made it to a second year.

My money’s on Jones being the odd man out, because his $3.095 million tender won’t count against the cap if he’s moved and it’ll be tough for him to prove he’s worth keeping over cheaper alternatives. Jones is no slouch, though, and would probably carry appreciable value around the league as an affordable and capable slot corner. But Jones could ultimately find himself competing with Crossen and Dawson for the final CB spot on the roster.

6. How quickly does Jarrett Stidham rise?

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham speaks to reporters by the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. after minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham speaks to reporters by the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. after minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

It’s not a question of whether former Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham will make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, but what kind of role he will play. He probably has too much upside to be safely stashed on the practice squad, so it’s likely the Patriots carry three QBs. Another scenario is that they move on from Brian Hoyer and make Stidham the full-time backup right away.

But it’s not likely that Stidham would be ready to assume the unheralded roles filled by Hoyer, a Patriot-raised veteran who is valued for his contributions on the scout team. Whatever Stidham ends up doing – a Jacoby Brissett-like presence would make sense – he’s almost certainly going to supplant Danny Etling on the roster.

7. Is Isaiah Wynn really ready?

Offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (76) heads to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (76) heads to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

All of the reports leading up to camp suggest that Wynn is essentially penciled in as the Patriots’ starting left tackle. He’s gotten big votes of confidence from the coaching staff, but it’s still a hard situation to gauge. Wynn attended minicamp, but didn’t participate in team drills during workouts open to the media.

One year after Trent Brown immediately took a stranglehold on left tackle and went wire-to-wire at that spot, it still sounds like Wynn will be the guy this year. But he has yet to show on the field how ready he really is to protect Brady’s blind side.

8. Which second-year player makes the biggest impact?

Jun 5, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots line backer Ja'Whaun Bentley (51) walks on to the field before mandatory minicamp at the Gillette Stadium practice field. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Jun 5, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots line backer Ja’Whaun Bentley (51) walks on to the field before mandatory minicamp at the Gillette Stadium practice field. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Running back Sony Michel is the easy choice here, but only because he made by far the most contributions of any rookie in 2018. He and Crossen are the only ones who were even healthy at the end of the season.

So if you keep it to the six 2018 rookies who ended up on IR … you hope Wynn is the most impactful player. But it would be great to see linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley continue the upward trajectory he showed as a rookie fifth-round pick, when he had a good training camp and averaged 46 snaps in three games before being injured.

9. What is the running back hierarchy?

Patriots running backs (L-R) Brandon Bolden, James White, Damien Harris, and Rex Burkhead head to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Patriots running backs (L-R) Brandon Bolden, James White, Damien Harris, and Rex Burkhead head to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Michel is presumably still the lead dog on early downs … but is he? Has he earned the right to immediately go back to getting lead back reps in training camp? Rookie third-round pick Damien Harris out of Alabama at least makes it more interesting. Undrafted rookie Nick Brossette out of LSU is probably a long shot to make the roster, but at least fits their need for a bigger back who can gain short yardage.

We’ll know plenty more about this group when everyone is present and healthy. Michel is expected to be there when camp opens to the public on July 25. For the second season in a row, they have considerable depth and possibly a tough decision to make when final roster cut-downs arrive.

10. Who wins the punter battle?

Stanford punter Jake Bailey executes a punt against USC. (Courtesy Stanford University Athletics)

Stanford punter Jake Bailey executes a punt against USC. (Courtesy Stanford University Athletics)

This will be the closest to “exciting” that a punter battle can get. Ryan Allen had an excellent Super Bowl and is signed up for 2019, but faces legitimate competition in Jake Bailey, whom the Patriots moved up to draft out of Stanford in the fifth round.

It feels highly unlikely that the Pats would move so aggressively to get Bailey with the intention of cutting him before the season. And yet, he has work to do to punt the ball as consistently as Allen does. Bailey hits moon shots, though. We’ll be watching this one closely so you don’t have to.

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.