5 Patriots That Would Have Greatly Benefited From Minicamps
It's not unrealistic or far-fetched to say that COVID-19 could greatly affect the New England Patriots' preparedness for this upcoming season. One underlying issue with the Patriots' roster is the lack of experience with many of the projected starters. With lots of new, young faces making their first attempts at NFL stardom on the roster, the question has been all offseason if Bill Belichick is leaning too heavily on many young question marks.
With minicamps being canceled, the year Belichick decided to put faith in many inexperienced players couldn't have come at a worse time.
Let's figure out who on this year's Patriots team needs more time and needs more training (like minicamps) in order to contribute to this team on a consistent basis. Here are five players that would have greatly benefited form participating in minicamps, which were cancelled due to the pandemic.
**Cam Newton was not mentioned on this list because he wasn't a member of the Patriots when minicamps would have been held**
Devin Asiasi could very well be the starting tight end for New England. Needless to say, Asiasi is going to need all the time in the world to prepare for that position.
Last year, the importance of having a good tight end in the Patriots' offense glowed. The drop-off from Rob Gronkowski to Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse was large. And that difference was between a more frail, down-year Gronkowski, in comparison to Watson and LaCosse. The offensive production was way down after Gronkowski retired. While the absence of one man was far from the only reason the offense struggled last season, it played a much larger part than people realize.
With Asiasi now expected to turn things around and make the offense run more smoothly, he not only has a lot on his plate, but you could say he has the most ton his plate outside of Julian Edelman and Jarrett Stidham. To expect a rookie to come in on a shortened offseason and be the starter at a very important position in the offense is a lot. Especially after the way things have transpired these last two seasons.
Josh Uche/Anfernee Jennings
Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings come as a pair here on this list. The reasoning behind that has to do with the shoes they will both probably have to fill right away.
After losing Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins this season, the Patriots went right into the draft and took Uche (60th overall) and Jennings (87th overall). These two youngsters are presumedly going to play a rather large role right away as they appear to be the answers to these losses.
While their play style differs a little bit from Van Noy and Collins, New England will likely shift their philosophy and identity a tad bit to fit in a large chunk of plays for both rookies this season. With such large shoes to fill and a likely large snap count, both players will need to learn and adjust to the Patriots' defense and NFL life quick in order to find success early on.
N'Keal Harry is going to have to step up and be the number two target in the offense this season. Last year, he was far from that and struggled to earn the trust of Tom Brady. Now, he has to earn the trust of Jarrett Stidham and be a reliable route-runner who can get open and create separation.
The pressure is on for the former first round pick, because if Harry does not become that number two option, the whole offense could crumble. With Mohamed Sanu really being a true number three guy, Harry needs to step up and show he was worth that selection in the 2019 draft. With an abbreviated summer and time spent away from his new starting quarterback, it might be hard for him to get to where he needs to get. Without that, the receiving core might have a lot of issues.
Damien Harris was a head-scratching move when he was drafted in the third round last year. Now, after essentially red-shirting in his NFL rookie year, he is unlikely to be a healthy scratch for much longer in his career.
With Sony Michel's health once again being rather questionable and Rex Burkhead being a potential surprise cut candidate, Harris could end up handling a large chunk of carries, especially to start the year.
With little in-game experience, Harris will need as much real-game simulation as he can possibly get. New England could rely on the run, especially early on, as Jarrett Stidham begins to acclimate himself to his presumed starting job at quarterback. With a potential early emphasis on the run game, Harris will have to ensure he can handle ten or more touches a game and click with the quarterback handing him the ball and the people blocking for him.
Stidham's name was just mentioned when talking about Harris; it will take time for Stidham to fully acclimate to the NFL and being a starter. That can take lots of time for many starting quarterbacks and sometimes the time runs out before they can really click in the NFL.
While minicamps would aid in that acclimation process, the bigger thing on hand is chemistry. As Stidham was probably was not getting too many opportunities to have first team reps last season, his trust and familiarity with top weapons like Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu is still developing. In order for Stidham to really prove himself in his first year as a starter, he will need to really know and trust and understand his teammates who are out on the field with him.
Minicamps are just one piece of the puzzle in molding that bond between players and creating trust. Without trust at the quarterback spot, things get so much more difficult. That's especially for a young, fourth rounder like Jarrett Stidham.