There’s been plenty of sizzle around the Patriots this summer, including weeklong trips to the Nevada desert and the sauna that is South Florida in September, all in preparation for Sunday’s date with the Dolphins.
The Patriots are 2-7 in their last nine trips to the stadium that’s had a million names (Hard Rock is the latest), so Bill Belichick has embraced the heat in an effort to get his club ready for his 23rd season on the Patriots sideline.
Here’s a look at how the roster shapes up:
Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
He’s no longer Mac & Cheese. He’s the Big Cheese.
Jones has taken ownership of the offense and the locker room (”His leadership this year is crazy,” Jakobi Meyers said). Expect to see Jones’s fiery side emerge as he attempts to lead New England to the postseason again.
Hoyer is the steady, calming influence on the sideline and in the meeting room for Jones.
“He makes it easy to have that role,” said Hoyer. “I mean, he’s a great kid and he works very hard and I’ve really enjoyed being around him.”
Zappe is likely to be game-day inactive for this sort of redshirt season, but his surprising arm strength and smarts are reasons to believe he will enjoy success at this level.
Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong Jr.
This group affords the Patriots the ability to play both smashmouth and finesse. Harris and Stevenson are 1 and 1A. Harris is a one-cut power runner who builds speed quickly, particularly when he gets to the second level. Stevenson has great vision and feel. If the initial read isn’t there, he’ll find another lane like an angry commuter coming out of the Callahan Tunnel.
Montgomery was one of the summer surprises and should provide a boost as a runner and receiver. Strong was a prolific producer as both a runner and receiver in college and could duplicate that as a pro but will need to wait his turn.
As a bonus, the club has J.J. Taylor and Kevin Harris on the practice squad.
Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne
Meyers just might be the best pass catcher in the league that nobody talks about. He is a good route runner, is fearless over the middle, and throws a pretty nifty spiral for good measure.
Parker’s enticing blend of size, speed, and surliness when it comes to contested catches should endear him to fans quickly. He might come out with a big chip on his big shoulder in Week 1.
Agholor was a happy camper this summer, and with good reason: He was on the receiving end of some long connections with Jones. If they can keep that going, defenses will be forced to leave someone in single coverage.
Bourne was not the happiest of campers, but his boundless energy suggests a bounce-back is coming.
Speedy rookie Tyquan Thornton (collarbone) could provide a midseason adrenaline shot. Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Tre Nixon, Lynn Bowden, and Laquon Treadwell are waiting in the wings on the practice squad.
Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
Henry is a widebody, athletic pass catcher whom Jones trusts in every situation. Despite his size, he sneakily slips to open spaces and snags everything in sight.
Smith’s productivity likely gets a bump this season as the Patriots will run more two-tight-end sets with the fullback position now obsolete in this offense.
With more speed in the receiving corps, look for New England to try to exploit the underneath routes and let these two guys play catch-and-run.
Starters: LT Trent Brown, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Mike Onwenu, RT Isaiah Wynn
Subs: T Justin Herron, T Yodny Cajuste, G/C James Ferentz, G Chasen Hines
Sure, there have been some hiccups in camp as the starters get used to the streamlined attack, which features more zone assignments than man calls. There’s simply too much talent here to think they won’t improve the communication and get things straight.
Ferentz provides depth at all three interior spots.
Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Carl Davis Jr., DaMarcus Mitchell, Sam Roberts
A nice mix of veteran savvy and youthful enthusiasm in this group. In 4-3 looks, Wise and Guy will be on the outside with Godchaux and Barmore manning the interior.
Barmore is poised for a breakout sophomore season after flashing as a freshman and building on that in the offseason. He has tremendous size, ridiculous quickness, and a relentless motor. He’ll team with Godchaux, whom Belichick called one of the best linemen in the league to counter the run.
Guy can play just about every technique and Wise is a strong pass rusher.
Matthew Judon, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson, Jahlani Tavai, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings
This is a new-look unit with some new and not-so-new faces replacing old reliables Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Kyle Van Noy.
Judon is a terror off the edge and Bentley is a teeth-rattler inside. McMillan, Wilson, and Tavai are athletic. They have the quicks to drop into coverage, but their challenge will be to adjust quickly to counterattack the run-pass-option attacks that have become so popular.
Uche and Jennings, entering their third seasons in the program, will get opportunities to put their stamp on this unit. Uche has shown he can pressure the pocket and Jennings is stout at the point of attack. Can they be consistent contributors?
Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Shaun Wade
The most frequent late-summer alignment had Mills and Jonathan Jones on the perimeter with Bryant at nickel. It’ll be shown plenty, but the rookie Joneses and Wade will get into the rotation when New England needs to flood the secondary.
Jack Jones and Wade are well-suited for boundary duty, while Marcus Jones has the quickness to play in the slot. They’ll take their share of lumps, of course, but each has shown stickiness during camp reps, which means they’re heading in the right direction.
Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe
The deepest position on the club. There will be plenty of three-safety looks this season featuring McCourty, Phillips, and Dugger. Peppers will spot in at multiple secondary spots and Bledsoe just needs reps.
Punter/kickoff specialist: Jake Bailey; kicker: Nick Folk; long snapper: Joe Cardona; coverage: Matthew Slater, Cody Davis, Brenden Schooler
Cardona, Bailey, and Folk are at the top of their games. The coverage units, which struggled at times last season, should benefit from Schooler’s energy. Marcus Jones (punts) and Strong (kickoffs) replace Gunner Olszewski in the return roles.