FOXBOROUGH — The biggest question of the Patriots offseason was answered when Cam Newton seized the starting quarterback job after Tom Brady’s two-decade run of success.
There are a lot more questions than answers for the Patriots — and every other NFL club — but here are 10, with a best-guess answer for each.
Q: What will the offense look like with Newton running the show?
A: Different. But not unrecognizable. Newton can stand tall in the pocket and throw missiles (yes, his shoulder looks good) but he also has the mobility to make teams pay with his legs (yes, his feet look good). Defenses hate when quarterbacks can run because that means 11-on-11 football, so the Patriots will be tough to defend.
Q: Who will lead this team in rushing?
A: Sony Michel. It’ll be close, though. New England’s backfield is deep with Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Damien Harris all capable of moving the chains. Michel looks completely recovered (quicker even) after offseason foot surgery. His instincts and decisive running style should help keep this offense in third-and-shorts.
Q: Who will lead this team in receptions/receiving yards?
A: James White/Julian Edelman. White is such a reliable receiver out of the backfield that it’s easy to imagine him catching 90 balls as a safety valve for Newton. Edelman is coming off a career-high 1,117 yards and it’s easy to imagine him piling up the same number, as he, too, thrives as a safety valve for Newton.
Q: Who can emerge as the No. 2 receiver?
A: N’Keal Harry. The second-year man was derailed by early injuries during his rookie year and never got on Brady’s favored list. He has a fresh start this summer with a new QB, who has taken a liking to him. Harry says he’s healthy (though he popped up with a shoulder issue on Friday’s report) and he has flashed the physical skills and fight that made him a top prospect during his days at Arizona State.
Q: How will Josh McDaniels utilize the two rookie tight ends?
A: A lot. Devin Asiasi is a good blocker with a really nice set of hands, and he’ll be used a lot as a traditional in-line guy who can help in the power running game while also being athletic enough to slip down the seam and make plays. Dalton Keene was used in multiple roles in college (tight end, H-back, fullback) and could be wearing just as many hats here.
Q: Will Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement affect the offensive line?
A: Can’t replace a legend. But co-offensive line coaches Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo learned from the master, and his principles and coaching points remain part of the curriculum for this program. It’s a veteran bunch (outside of right tackle) that will perform well.
Q: How will the club deal with the defections and opt-outs at linebacker?
A: With an infusion of youth. Ja’Whaun Bentley will be the man in the middle, but it looks like rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings will be used in a lot of different looks because of their excellent flexibility. The Patriots demand versatility in their linebacking corps, and the young pups look like they’ll be slotted inside and outside as they defend the run, rush the passer, and drop into coverage.
Q: Is Kyle Dugger ready to make the big leap?
A: The Patriots’ top draft pick this year served notice quickly in camp that he was ready to make the enormous leap from Division 2 football to the NFL. He’s big, fast, rangy, and smart. As a bonus, he gets to learn from Devin McCourty. He’ll make an impact, and don’t be surprised if he’s a special teams stud as well.
Q: Who will surprise on offense/defense?
A: Damiere Byrd is a slick receiver with good hands and good route running. His familiarity with Newton can’t be understated and if he stays healthy, he’s a viable No. 3 receiver. Byron Cowart had a strong camp and could settle in at defensive tackle alongside Lawrence Guy. He’s really athletic and quick for a 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound man. He could be a real disruptor.
Q: Can the Patriots reach the Super Bowl?
A: Yes. The key word is “can”? A lot of things have to fall their way. The Bills will be tough in the East and the Chiefs have a guy named Mahomes at QB, but with everybody starting behind the COVID-19 8-ball this year, preparation and coaching will be keys to success, and the Patriots have a guy named Belichick.