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5 players to watch at Patriots training camp

The Patriots kick off the 2014 season in earnest on July 23 when training camp gets underway, with the first practice a day later, in Foxboro.

Darrelle Revis Darrelle Revis is now a New England Patriot.
Credit: Getty Images

The Patriots kick off the 2014 season in earnest on July 23 when training camp gets underway, with the first practice a day later, in Foxboro.

Last season it was all about Tim Tebow's brief introduction to New England, but the signings this offseason appear to be a bit more practical — and with some staying power.

Metro takes a look at five players who will be on everyone's mind when training camp gets underway.

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1. Darrelle Revis

Unlike Tebow, Revis is a big-name addition who will be very important to the 2014 season. The cameras will certainly find Revis, the former All Pro for the rival Jets, at the first available opportunity. The questions over his past criticism of head coach Bill Belichick have already been answered in the offseason and hopefully the focus will be on him replacing the departed Aqib Talib in the secondary. Revis appeared to bounce back strong from a torn ACL last season in Tampa Bay, so injuries shouldn't be a concern. He should be even better, in fact, a full season removed from the major injury.

2. Rob Gronkowski

Remember this guy? Yeah, he still actually plays football. The best tight end in football a few years ago has played in just 18 games in 2012 and 2013. Last year he played just seven games and is still on the mend from the torn ACL he suffered last December, which cut his season short. He's just seven months removed from knee surgery, so he will be eased into training camp and eventually preseason action. He deferred to the training staff on those calls last week, but said he plans to play Week 1. A healthy Gronkowski completely transforms this Patriots offense and takes the pressure off the wide receivers who struggled at times in 2013.

3. Aaron Dobson

Speaking of wide receivers, Dobson sat out all of organized team activities this offseason as he recovered from foot surgery. But he is set to be back on the field for training camp, where he is expected to improve on a solid rookie campaign in 2013. He finished with 37 catches, 519 yards and four touchdowns in just 12 games due to that foot injury. The Patriots were expected to upgrade the receiving corps in the offseason, but only did so slightly. They brought back Julian Edelman and signed free agent Brandon LaFell, but Dobson — and fellow second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins — will still be critical pieces to an offense which was 13th in the league in receiving touchdowns (25) despite an elite QB.

4. Vince Wilfork

No piece of the defense was missed more than Wilfork last season. (Inset your "big hole to fill" jokes here.) Wilfork and the Patriots engaged in a little bit of a contract spat in the offseason, with Wilfork even expressing a desire to move on from the only team he's called home for 10 years. But in the end, he re-signed for three years and $22.5 million, contingent on staying healthy. That will be the big question for Wilfork coming off a season-ending torn Achilles early last season. He'll also likely feel rookie Dominique Easley breathing down his neck. The supremely talented first-round pick out of Florida plays a lot like young Jets star Sheldon Richardson. He has the versatility to play inside and outside and make the defense more multiple than Wilfork, who is a pure nose tackle.

5. Brandon Browner

One of the more intriguing stories in camp will be that of Browner. Fans better get a good look at him in training camp, because you won't see him in a game until Week 5 against Cincinnati. Browner was suspended four games while a member of Seattle for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He will get a chance to play in preseason games though, so he should develop chemistry with the new group he'll be playing with. Of course, Browner needs to stay out of trouble after Week 5 too. He was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs and for three failed tests for marijuana in his career. The 6-foot-4 cornerback is tremendously talented, and if he stays out of trouble his pairing with Revis should make for one of the best group of cornerbacks in the NFL.

Follow Metro national sports editor Mark Osborne on Twitter @MetroNYSports.

 
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