By Liz Panucci // @PanucciLiz
Every year, training camp proves decisive for a handful of players. It’s where jobs are won and lost. It’s where careers start and stop.
With Julian Edelman suspended for four games and both the secondary and backfield in flux, Pats camp is shaping up to be crucial for a few newcomers to Foxborough.
1. Braxton Berrios, WR (6th round, Miami)
Edelman’s absence means that someone is going to have to emerge as Tom Brady’s safety valve out of the slot, especially with Danny Amendola signing in Miami and Brandin Cooks traded to the Rams. Berrios was just that for Malik Rosier at Miami last year, leading the Hurricanes with 55 catches and nine touchdowns. He will have ample competition for the role. Even without Edelman, Amendola and Cooks, the Patriots’ receiving corps is still crowded. Chris Hogan is penciled in as the WR1 and veterans Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Mitchell are ahead of Berrios on the depth chart.
Since Berrios was limited by an injury during mini-camp, he’ll need to come up big at main camp to make the team and earn snaps.
2. Sony Michel, RB (1st round, 2018; Georgia)
Bill Belichick eschewed his usual committee approach to the backfield and rode Dion Lewis like a workhorse in the latter part of 2017. Now that Lewis is with the Titans, there’s only one player on the roster with the physical talent to do what Lewis did last year, and that’s rookie Sony Michel.
But the Patriots also have veterans James White, Rex Burkhead, and Jeremy Hill at RB, and they all represent safe options with more experience in areas like pass protection. If Michel wants a Lewis-like workload in his first season, he will have to not only display the sheer athleticism that made him a first-round pick, but also the headiness to do the so-called “little things” that keep veteran running backs in the league.
3. J.C. Jackson, CB (undrafted, Maryland)
Malcolm Butler was supposed to lock down the left side of the New England secondary for the foreseeable future. Instead, he found himself inexplicably cast aside by Belichick on the biggest stage in Super Bowl 52. Looking ahead to Super Bowl 53, Pats fans may see their team as finalists once again, and if you bet online check out this site that has all the major sports books reviewed with the average at +650 to win it all again. With the help of these rookies, they could win it again.
Enter undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson? Possibly. He impressed at mini-camp and now has a legitimate shot to earn playing time. He’s not the favorite to start, by any means, with veterans Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, and Jonathan Jones on the roster. But McCourty, who’s on the wrong side of 30, is the best of that trio and he was going to be released by the Browns before New England acquired him in a trade.
The competition at corner is going to be open and fierce.
Talk sports with Liz on Twitter // @PanucciLiz