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Ten Reasons for Preseason Excitement in Foxboro

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New England Patriots first round quarterback draft pick Drake Maye (10) throws the ball during the NFL football team's rookie minicamp Saturday, May 11, 2024, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Mark Stockwell)

The New England Patriots training camp does not get underway for another two months, but there is already plenty to be excited about. There is competition for roster spots and playing time in every position group. A new staff led by head coach Jerod Mayo, begins to forge their legacy in Foxboro. And a crop of new players, led by rookie quarterback Drake Maye, gets an opportunity to make a first impression playing in front of the public.

Here’s a look at 10 things to get excited about before the 2024 regular season arrives:

1 – New England’s 2024 NFL Draft Class

No. 3 overall pick Drake Maye will garner the majority of attention here, and rightfully so. But Maye is not the only Patriots rookie people will closely watch in preseason. Wide receivers Ja’Lynn Polk and Javon Baker aren’t just expected to make the team, they are expected to contribute right away. Baker’s brashness has New England fans excited before he’s played in a preseason game. The chemistry between Maye and his fellow rookies will also be monitored closely. This includes seventh-round tight end Jaheim Bell.

Also Read – Meet the New England Patriots 2024 NFL Draft Class

Offensive linemen Caeden Wallace and Layden Robinson will be fighting for playing time. Wallace as a starting left tackle with Robinson at right guard in Week 1 as rookies is possible. Wallace faces a tougher battle despite being drafted higher, as he played exclusively on the right side in college. All of this will be monitored closely.

Can Joe Milton III and Marcellas Dial Jr. earn roster spots out of camp? New England had eight selections in the 2024 NFL Draft. All eight are worth watching closely throughout camp.

2 – Undrafted Free Agents

The New England Patriots have a proud history of undrafted free agents becoming major contributors. Adam Vinatieri was once a UDFA. Vinatieri became a four-time Super Bowl champion, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, and a future Pro Football Hall of Fame member. In recent years, New England’s undrafted free agents have included Malcolm Butler, David Andrews, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Brenden Schooler, and many more. Who will make enough of an impression in preseason to stick around?

Malik Cunningham did not make the 53-man roster out of camp last season. However, he was signed back to the practice squad and gave fans something to get excited about from a UDFA in 2023. This year there are 15 undrafted free agents on the Patriots 90-man roster. Among those most likely to earn a roster spot are RB Deshaun Fenwick, TE Jacob Warren, OL Charles Turner III, LB Jontrey Hunter, CB Mikey Victor, and DB Dell Pettus. With a roster more wide open than it has been in years, the opportunity exists for players to solidify a roster spot.

3 – New Coaching Staff

There was a lot of turnover on the coaching staff from last season. Head coach Bill Belichick is gone after 24 seasons in New England. Jerod Mayo has taken the helm. Although Mayo has given a glimpse into his coaching style, he will be watched closely throughout camp and preseason games. What will Mayo look like on the sideline when he’s not in a good mood? Things will be different, which is always interesting.

The head coach isn’t the only new staff member. All three coordinators are new to their positions with the Patriots, with only defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington returning from last year’s staff. What will these units look like scheme-wise in 2024? As much as these things can be talked about, seeing them in action will be far more telling.

Another aspect is the relationship between Mayo and his coordinators. How much of a hands-on or hands-off approach will he take with the units, particularly the defense?

The Patriots also have several new positional coaches, especially on offense. Offensive line coach Scott Peters has a fascinating background and intriguing coaching methods. The offensive line will be particularly interesting to watch the development of.

4 – Patriots vs. Panthers

The New England Patriots open their preseason schedule against the Carolina Panthers on August 8. The matchup is interesting for at least two reasons, aside from it being the new regime’s first game.

These teams are projected to battle for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2025 NFL Draft. Both teams are hoping this isn’t the case. But while opening preseason games can mean very little for Super Bowl contenders, this game could give both squads a sense of just how far they are down the NFL’s pecking order.

Also, both teams feature young quarterbacks taken high in the draft. Carolina took Bryce Young No. 1 overall in 2023. New England selected Drake Maye at No. 3 overall in 2024. Fair or not, there will be comparisons made between the two. Young struggled as a rookie last season. Can Young leap in performance in year two? Early reports from OTAs were encouraging for Panthers fans. It will also be the NFL debut of Drake Maye (albeit a preseason one) assuming he gets to play at least a quarter.

5 – Drake Maye vs. Jayden Daniels

A third entry in the top five on the list involving Drake Maye should surprise nobody. He is the potential future face of the New England Patriots franchise. Nobody will garner more attention, for better or worse, than Maye this preseason. The narrative will be amplified with the Patriots visit the Washington Commanders on August 25.

Caleb Williams was the presumed No. 1 overall pick well in advance of the 2024 NFL Draft. Washington was drafting second, followed by New England. Both teams needed quarterbacks. The Commanders chose Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, leaving Maye for the Patriots. Those top three quarterbacks are likely to be compared throughout their careers. The first meeting involves Daniels and Maye in the final preseason game.

Of course, no judgments should be made about whether Washington made the right decision for quite some time. Equally obvious, that will not stop many people from making a lot out of what they see on August 25.

6 – New Kickoff Rule

The NFL approved modified kickoff rules for a one-year trial basis in 2024. The changes are not mere tweaks. Kickoffs will look entirely different this season and preseason will offer a first look into what to expect. What strategies will teams utilize? Will there be more and longer kickoff returns?

The new format can affect specialists the most. Are certain placekickers going to thrive under the new format? Will all teams even use a kicker (a new NFL position was suggested here)? Watching a new play in the NFL after over 100 years will be fascinating, whether or not it ultimately sticks around or improves the play. Players on the bottom of rosters will attempt to show proficiency for playing on kickoff teams under the new rules.

7 – First-Down Technology

The new kickoff rules will exist for the 2024 regular season as well. But a first-down tracking technology will be used during the 2024 preseason on a trial basis. Reports indicate that if this is successful it could be implemented as soon as the 2024 regular season, though 2025 appears more likely. Once again, anything new will be interesting and exciting to watch.

This new technology will not eliminate the “chain gang” in the NFL. The markers will still be used as indicators for players, coaches, and fans. However, it eliminates the need for those holding the first down marker to trot onto the field for measurements. An optical tracking system (not a computer chip) will determine if a first down is made. The goal is for there to be more accuracy and fewer unnecessary delays.

8 – Health of Returning Players

The New England Patriots finished the 2023 season with 15 players on injured reserve. Most notable were Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon and 2023 first-round pick Christian Gonzalez. But they weren’t the only key players who finished last season on IR. Other injured players still on the Patriots’ roster include Kendrick Bourne, Rhamondre Stevenson, Marcus Jones, Cole Strange, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Calvin Anderson. Strange is the only player from that group not expected to be ready for preseason football.

If this group returns to full health, the depth of New England’s roster receives a considerable boost. Judon is one of the league’s best pass rushers. Gonzalez could be a lockdown corner for the foreseeable future in Foxboro. Stevenson is slated to return to his role of featured back. Bourne and Smith-Schuster will attempt to weaponize an offense that was sorely lacking them last season. Marcus Jones was an All-Pro return specialist in his healthy rookie season (2022) before missing most of 2023.

New England had a lot working against them last season in terms of both talent and execution. But lost along the way was the tremendous amount of injuries they were forced to overcome. They did not have the margin of error to do so a year ago.

9 – Unhappy Campers

Trent Brown appeared to join the “quiet quitting” fad at some point last season. He was in the final year of his New England contract. It seemed he prioritized entering free agency healthy and hoping to cash in rather than play hard for the Patriots. There are 25 potential 2025 unrestricted free agents on the Patriots roster. While many of these players do not have the leverage to cause a stink about their contract situation, there are a few who the team may want to extend before the season arrives.

Six extension candidates were identified here, following the extensions given to Christian Barmore and David Andrews. While none of the players will necessarily go the Trent Brown route, Matthew Judon is among those who would prefer entering the season with some contract security beyond 2024.

10 – Starting and Roster Spot Battles

Many players on New England’s 90-man roster fit into one of the categories above. This tenth category includes nearly everyone else. How many Patriots are not rookies, not returning from injury, not entering the final year of their contract, and not fighting for either a starting position or a roster spot? Team captains David Andrews, Hunter Henry, Deatrich Wise Jr., and Ja’Whaun Bentley fit the bill. So do veterans with new contracts, like Christian Barmore and Kyle Dugger. The list does not extend far beyond that.

So there are over 80 players worth watching for one reason or another in preseason. This should make for anything but a dull preseason and training camp, regardless of what people project the Patriots record to be in 2024.

And if all of those reasons are not enough to pique the interest of New England Patriots fans, don’t forget the ceremony inducting Tom Brady into the team’s Hall of Fame takes place next week.

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