FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Five practices are in the books, and the 2019 Patriots are beginning to take shape.
The defending Super Bowl champs are experiencing an overhaul on the offensive side of the ball, as the left tackle position and virtually the entire pass-catching corps must be replaced. The turnover makes for some fascinating position battles this summer.
Even though we're only a week into camp, the Patriots' defensive upside is undeniable. They're returning nearly everyone, and they've added talent at all three levels.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from five days of practice:
The left tackle situation could get dicey
The clock is ticking for Isaiah Wynn, who hasn't yet taken a competitive rep in 11-on-11 drills (and that's with or without pads). The Pats spend the rest of the week in Foxborough before ramping up the intensity with joint practices at the Lions and Titans. Will the Pats throw Wynn right into the fire against those teams? You never know, but it's hard to see them going from zero to 100 with a player returning from an Achilles tear.
That leaves about two weeks for Wynn to prep for the regular season. It's a tight timeline.
So what happens if he's not ready? From what we've seen through the first week of camp, Joe Thuney would be the most likely candidate to slide to left tackle. The Pats have impressive depth on the interior offensive line and can plug in Ted Karras, James Ferentz or rookie Hjalte Froholdt at the left guard spot. That's a fine temporary solution.
Bill Belichick noted that Thuney has played center, guard and tackle.
"Some guys are more versatile than others," Belichick said. "Some guys are really good at playing one spot and doing that. (Logan) Mankins played a lot of tackle... Played tackle against Baltimore when we needed him in a key game at the end of the season. You just never know. Sometimes you might need it a lot. Maybe you won't need it at all. Sometimes you might need it for a game or two, but if it's a critical game you want to be prepared for that."
The Pats have also given Dan Skipper some looks at left tackle. The 6-foot-9 Skipper has ideal length for the position, but he's not a proven player. He's bounced around the league since going undrafted in 2017.
Jarrett Stidham has potential
Lots to like about the rookie quarterback. He can sling it, and he can do it on the move.
A few examples: At the end of an 11-on-11 period last Friday, Stidham sensed pressure coming on a cornerback blitz and unloaded before the defender could get to him. Stidham didn't step into the throw or set his feet, but he still dropped the ball perfectly over James White's shoulder for a touchdown on the wheel route.
On Saturday, Stidham flashed impressive zip and accuracy on another touchdown connection to White, who ran an angle route in red zone 11-on-11s.
This isn't to say Stidham looks ready to play as a rookie. He needs work processing the defense and getting the ball out in a timely manner. That's the case for so many rookie quarterbacks. Even Jimmy Garoppolo had issues into his second and third training camps. Obviously, Garoppolo worked out the kinks before he took the field at Arizona in Week 1 of the 2016 season.
Like Garoppolo, Stidham will have time to grow behind the scenes. All the skills he's struggling with -- recognition of the defense, the time needed to process, etc. -- can be learned.
Stidham's arm strength, accuracy, and ability to throw on the run are all natural skills. It's not every year you can find a quarterback with those innate abilities in the fourth round.
How's the WR position shaking out?
Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and N'Keal Harry all qualify as locks to make the roster. We don't need to waste space on Edelman. Dorsett is a speedy receiver who has worked hard to turn himself into more of a well-rounded threat. Harry is a monster at the position, built almost like a tight end. He looks stiff at times, but his physicality on fade routes and jump balls stands out. Harry could do some damage after the catch; in college, he excelled with the ball in his hands.
Pats receiver Maurice Harris compared Harry to former NFL great Anquan Boldin, in terms of build and playing strength.
Harris is rapidly moving into the "lock" category, too. He's been the most consistent pass-catcher in camp. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, he's a smooth route-runner who can play multiple receiver spots. If the season started tomorrow, Harris would not only be on the roster, but also in the starting lineup.
One other note at the position: Demaryius Thomas, who remains on the PUP list, has been hanging around practice. He's massive. If the Patriots can somehow get either Thomas or Josh Gordon on the field with Harry, opposing secondaries will struggle to counter the sheer size and strength of the Pats receivers.
The Pats could have been going for a similar look last year with Kenny Britt (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and Jordan Matthews (6-foot-3, 215 pounds and capable of playing in the slot). Injuries derailed that plan, though.
Thomas will be approximately eight and a half months removed from suffering a torn Achilles when the Pats open the season with a Sunday night game against the Steelers. His timetable for return remains unclear.
Tough cuts coming on defense
Barring injuries, some more-than-capable defensive players will end up on the outside looking in.
Some possible bubble players: linebacker Elandon Roberts, safety Obi Melifonwu, cornerback Duke Dawson, defensive tackle Danny Shelton and cornerback Keion Crossen.
Roberts is by far the most accomplished player of the group, but he's battling for snaps in a linebackers unit that includes Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Ja'Whaun Bentley. Collins has been running with the starters. He's making the team.
Bentley looked like an absolute steal at the beginning of last season before going down with a torn bicep. Bentley and Roberts offer similar skill sets.
If the Pats elect to keep Dawson and Crossen, that means they're carrying seven cornerbacks on the Week 1 roster. It's doable if they can get by with lesser depth at other positions.
Both Dawson and Crossen have made plays this summer. It would be a surprise if either made it back to the Patriots practice squad.
Melifonwu is a dynamic athlete who has already recorded three interceptions in training camp. He's earned some playing time at strong safety alongside Devin McCourty, and seems to be in line for a special teams role, too. There's no doubt the Pats are intrigued by his upside. But can they keep him with McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks (locked in as a special teamer and also receiving valuable reps on defense) on the roster?
Derek Rivers is in a solid spot entering his third year.
The team's top draft choice in 2017, Rivers has appeared in only six games for the Pats. A knee injury wiped out his rookie year and he was buried on the depth chart as a sophomore.
Now everything is lining up for Rivers to earn a significant role. He's earned consistent reps at defensive end. As an athletic speed rusher, he brings a different skill set to the position; Michael Bennett and Deatrich Wise can play inside techniques. Rivers is more similar to John Simon and rookie Chase Winovich.
One factor that could limit Rivers' upside: The Pats can deploy Hightower and Van Noy along the edge, too.
Others who project as potential breakouts include defensive tackle Mike Pennel (the ex-Jet who signed as a free agent), Harris and tight end Matt LaCosse.
LaCosse stood out in the spring, but has been quiet through one week of camp. Still, his size and athleticism make him a high-upside player.
We can also throw rookie punter Jake Bailey into this discussion. Bailey, a fifth-round pick, gets insane hang time on his punts. He might have one of the strongest legs in the NFL. As great as Ryan Allen was in Super Bowl LIII, it's hard to see the Pats outright cutting a punter they drafted in the fifth round.