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Three Questions to Consider as the Patriots Begin Training Camp

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It's finally time to talk football again. Actual football. Not who is mad at who or who is doing what on social media. With training camp kicking off this week, it's time to start talking about the 2018-19 version of the New England Patriots. After a stinging loss in Super Bowl LII led to one of the more "eventful" offseasons in recent memory, it's time to finally close the book on the 2017-18 season.

The Patriots open the preseason against the Washington Redskins on August 9th, but will have two full weeks of practice before then. There are plenty of storylines, players and positions to watch. Here are just a few questions to keep in mind as camp opens.

Who will emerge at cornerback?

Stephon Gilmore has a lock on the CB1 position entering camp. He played his best football of the season last December and January, and had passed Malcolm Butler as the team's top corner. With Butler now a member of Tennessee Titans, who will step up and fill that void? The team isn't short on options, but there are a few guys to keep an eye on.

As he enters his third season with the team, Eric Rowe would seem to be a popular choice. He's familiar with the system, and though inconsistent, has proven to be an effective player. The biggest concern with Rowe is his inability to stay on the field. In two seasons with the team, he has appeared in just 17 of 32 regular season games. 

The departure of Butler was expected, even before his controversial benching in the Super Bowl. The Patriots knew cornerback would be a need this offseason, and used some draft capital -- with the selections of Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen -- to address it.

Dawson comes in with a little more clout than Crossen. Dawson was a second-round pick out of the University of Florida and has a couple of All-SEC honors to his name. He began his collegiate career as a safety and transitioned to corner after his freshmen season. He's lined up in the slot, and on the outside, so that versatility could lend itself to more opportunities to get on the field. Bill Belichick loves players who can line up at more than one position.

Crossen meanwhile, was a seventh-round pick out of Western Carolina and, according to him, has been overlooked his entire career. He's been lauded for his football IQ and work ethic, which can help make up for any talent limitations he my have. Both he and Dawson are two rookies ready to compete.

The Patriots also brought in an established veteran in Jason McCourty. His experience makes him a top candidate to earn that second cornerback spot. I'm sure he has spent all offseason picking the brain of twin brother Devin McCourty and trying to gain any advantage he can before camp starts.

Then there's Cyrus Jones. Jones was the Patriots first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, but has had a forgettable start to his NFL career. His rookie season was full of fumbles on punt returns and after a rough start to the preseason last year, he tore his ACL. He will begin camp on the PUP list, and the longer he's out, the more difficult it's going to be for him to prove his worth.

Even though Butler had a down year last year, his competitiveness will be missed. What he lacked in size, he made up for with his fight. Butler wasn't the most athletically gifted, but the guy never quit on a play and possessed a swagger and bravado that is necessary to play cornerback in the NFL. That might be the hardest thing for the Patriots to replace.

Could Crossen be that guy? He's undersized, comes from a small school and is very confident in his ability. Expect him to play with a chip on his shoulder. 

Is Danny Etling a viable option at QB?

As many expected them to, the Patriots drafted a quarterback last April. I want to say this right now, I have no expectations for Etling. However, with Tom Brady nearing the end of his career, as long as there is a young quarterback on the roster, he's going to viewed as Brady's potential successor.

We know Brian Hoyer isn't the future quarterback of this team. He's just a known commodity who can be a serviceable backup in the short term. Sure, Etling was a seventh round flier, but there were opportunities to draft a quarterback earlier. Does that mean the Patriots really like Etling, or did they not like the other available quarterbacks, and simply drafted Etling just for depth?

Etling spent two years at Purdue before transferring to LSU for his final two collegiate seasons. His numbers were fine, but the number that jumps out is his interceptions. He threw just seven in 24 games with the Tigers. An ability to take care of the ball will go a long way in the NFL.

At the end of the day, he is still a seventh-round pick, so there should not be any expectations. Etling is going to have plenty of opportunities this preseason. He should get more reps than Hoyer. As a young quarterback, there's nobody better to learn from than Brady. It's up to Etling to take full advantage of that.

How will the defense look without Matt Patricia? 

While he may not have taken over Patricia's title as defensive coordinator, long-time line backer coach Brian Flores is expected to take over the defensive play calling duties. Bill Belichick will still have his hands all over the defense, but Flores is expected to be his right hand man with Patricia gone.

I'm interested in seeing what that means for the defense. There is some new personnel, but the majority of the defense returns from last year. Will there be a noticeable change in their style of play? Maybe Flores will be a bit more aggressive with his play calling than Patricia was. I would love to see this team blitz a little more.

Teams tend to hold things back in the preseason, as gameplans are a bit more vanilla. You can only learn so much from watching practice, so this may not be something that will be answered until the regular season starts.

The offseason drama can finally be put to rest. Despite all that has transpired this offseason, expect a business as usual type attitude coming out of Foxborough. The march towards Super Bowl LIII has begun.

Looking to have a civilized discussion, I know the perfect place...follow me on twitter @mcvay34

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