Rob Gronkowski's return from injury will be a big factor for the Patriots in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots kick off their mandatory Mini-camp on Tuesday morning starting with a Bill Belichick press conference at 8:30 followed by practice from 11:15 to 1:15 with certain players meeting with the media after each practice. The practice schedule will continue for Wednesday and Thursday as well.
With the team going through the final tune-up prior to training camp starting in July, here are five of the things we'll be looking for this week:
With so many players returning from serious injuries, this will be a big test for many of the players in a mandatory setting. Vince Wilfork has seen some action in OTAs which is a good sign that his rehab is going well. Rob Gronkowski has been on the field for part of the workouts but has mainly worked out in the bubble away from prying eyes.
First round draft pick Dominique Easley is recovering from a second ACL injury and we'll be monitoring whether he can make an appearance on the field this week. Other defensive line players to monitor include Tommy Kelly and free agent addition Will Smith.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson is doubtful to participate as he's still on the mend from off-season foot surgery but Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will bear watching as well. And on the subject of watching, Armond Armstead who was looked to in 2013 to provide depth along the defensive line and subsequently developed an infection that required season ending surgery will be a popular subject. He has been seen very rarely since being signed last spring. This will be a big test.
Danny Amendola will be looking to make a splash after a injury filled 2013. (USA TODAY Images)
Wide Receiver/Tight End:
With Dobson probably out, it will allow other players an opportunity to shine. Reports thus far have 2nd year players Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins shining in OTAs. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola have been working hard with Tom Brady, building their chemistry and trust factor, going so far as to working alone off to the side during special teams activities.
A key player to watch will be Brandon Lafell, the big wide receiver that was signed from the Panthers this off-season. Lafell can provide a big target to move the chains for Brady especially in the red-zone but has struggled to pick up the Patriots system. We'll be watching his progress closely this week.
With the team likely taking a cautious approach with Gronkowski, who steps up in mini-camp will be a barometer to gauge how training camp unfolds. Michael Hoomanawanui has stated he's ready to take on a larger role. D.J. Williams, Asa Watson and Justin Jones will be competing for reps also.
Rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo will be under close scrutiny this summer. (USA TODAY Images)
Rookies, Especially Garoppolo:
While we've already mentioned Easley, all of the rookies will bear watching this week but none will be under more scrutiny than QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Two weeks ago Garoppolo had his struggles, not at all uncommon for rookie signal callers in their first taste of the NFL but he was reported to be much sharper last week, a good sign in his development. Will he be able to push Ryan Mallett for the backup QB position this summer? Here will be his first big test.
Center Brian Stork got a lot of work during the OTAs and drew the ire of Brady and the coaches for forgetting the snap count in one sequence resulting in some laps being run. All of the offensive linemen have been there, but we'll be watching him to see if he can push Ryan Wendell for the starting position.
Cameron Fleming hasn't been on the field because of the rules pertaining to his school's graduation so he'll be mixing it up for the first time. Pint-sized wide receiver Jeremy Gallon who was very productive at Michigan will have a tough road to make the roster in 2014 but we're interested to see what he can do against what promises to be a tough secondary.
Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan may push Alfonzo Dennard for starting reps early this season, and has been rumored to move to safety. (USA TODAY Images)
With the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the Patriots cornerback position has received a huge boost of talent. But with Browner facing a mandatory four-game suspension to start the season, who steps up to take his reps once the games begin? Logan Ryan has been the rumor of many to move to safety but thus far he's been at corner. Will Alfonzo Dennard be able to step in and wrest the starting job, albeit for now away?
With the release of Steve Gregory, the Patriots need a safety next to Devin McCourty. Right now most seem to think that second year player Duron Harmon will assume the mantle, but there always remains the possibility of Ryan being slid back, as well as former Pat and recent free agent signing Pat Chung and Tavon Wilson. This will be an interesting position to watch going forward.
Shane Vereen may be an option for a wide open kick returning position in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
LaGarrette Blount left via free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers so the Patriots are again in need of a viable kick returner. There should be some great competition here, as of right now Josh Boyce seems to have the edge but there is no shortage of players vying for reps.
Jeremy Gallon, Roy Finch and Reggie Dunn all seem intriguing prospects in the return game as well as running back Shane Vereen. There won't be a ton of opportunities for each of them so they'll have to shine quickly and in training camp in July.