Patriots we want to see more of

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
1:23
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The first five practices of training camp are in the books. Wednesday is the first day with no practice since the first public workout last Friday.

This offers a chance to take a step back and assess what we've seen in the initial days of camp.

Along those lines, here are six players we want to see more of:

Defensive end Marcus Benard
The five-year veteran from Jackson State is a relative unknown who has flashed some explosion in one-on-one drills. He entered the NFL in 2009 as a rookie free agent with the Browns (then coached by former Patriots assistant Eric Mangini), spending half his rookie season on the practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster. Then, in 2010, he totaled 7.5 sacks before a hand injury limited him to four games in 2011 and he missed all of last season with an elbow injury. At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, he could be this year's Trevor Scott, a veteran depth option looking to rebound after injuries knocked him off course. He might have the quickest first step of any of the reserve pass-rushers that we've watched to this point. -- Mike Reiss

Defensive end Jake Bequette
A 2012 third-round draft choice who played 29 defensive snaps last season, Bequette is hopeful to find a role in the reserve rotation among the edge setters behind Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. In early 1-on-1 rush drills, Bequette has looked fine, though he still needs to develop a counter move. If he isn’t beating the opposing tackle with his first step, he’s often finding himself swallowed up. Bequette will have to contribute on special teams if he is going to stick around, and we’ve seen him work quite a bit on the core teams in camp. That was an area that he did not seem as actively involved in during last training camp, and could reflect improved athleticism after an offseason worth of training. He needs a good August to secure a spot on the 53-man roster. -- Field Yates

Guard Dan Connolly
To be fair, Connolly has been limited by his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, so this isn’t a reflection of anything that he’s done on the field. But nonetheless, we’re anxious to see Connolly back in the mix, particularly with Marcus Cannon also projecting into the right guard competition (although Cannon departed Tuesday’s practice for unknown reasons). Connolly has positional versatility and has performed admirably for the Patriots over the past two seasons, but if the team believes Cannon is the superior option, it’ll make for an interesting decision on the veteran Connolly. He’s due $2.25 million in base salary and carries a cap charge of $3.33 million for 2013, both steep figures for a player in a reserve role. Should he return soon, look for the position battle between he and Cannon to heat up even more. -- Field Yates

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling
Dowling (6-1, 215) hasn't stayed healthy during his first two NFL seasons, but the fact remains this: few NFL cornerbacks possess his length and frame, making him an intriguing prospect that could impact this Patriots defense. He’s had a solid camp so far, though not spectacular. Dowling can stay with receivers on the perimeter in man coverage, and that’s exactly what we want to see more of. With practices upcoming with both the Eagles and Buccaneers, it seems likely that we’ll see extensive 1-on-1 work, and Dowling will also have a chance to show himself in game action. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Dowling figures to be in the mix for the fourth or fifth cornerback job, meaning he’ll also have to factor in on special teams. If he can do that, he might finally carve a consistent role on this squad. -- Field Yates

Tight end Zach Sudfeld
The rookie free-agent from Nevada has good size (6-7, 260), which showed up Tuesday in the red zone. He also has shown, for the most part, solid hands going back to spring camps and into the early part of training camp. Haven't seen as much from him in the blocking game -- he's not as thick in his trunk as the tight ends ahead of him on the depth chart -- but it seems fair to say that he has sustained the momentum from spring and carried it into training camp. Daniel Fells (some notable work in the passing game) and Michael Hoomanawanui (underrated hands) have mostly worked as the top two tight ends, with Sudfeld and Jake Ballard behind them. After Tuesday's practice, I wondered if Sudfeld might challenge one of the veterans for a roster spot. -- Mike Reiss

Defensive tackle Joe Vellano
The Patriots are thin behind starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and among the backups, Vellano has generated the most consistent interior pressure. He is undersized compared to the other defensive tackle backups at 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, and sometimes that plays to his advantage when he's displayed short-area quickness to knife through tight spaces, mostly when lining up closer to the center. But other times, when he's aligned closer to the tackle because the line might have shifted, he was more easily blocked. It's too early to say he could be a sleeper who could fill a potential Jonathan Fanene-type role as an interior sub rusher, but a few of his rushes piqued interest to see how he might fare on a consistent basis against starter-level competition. -- Mike Reiss

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