Fantasy Football 2014:

NFL camp preview: Patriots bank on Gronk, Revis

The SportsXchange

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- While quarterback Tom Brady remains the focal point of the New England Patriots franchise, an argument can be made that New England also has two of the most important players in the league on their respective sides of the ball in 2014. Many eyes will be on them as the Patriots head to training camp at Gillette Stadium with the first practice set for July 24.

The Patriots will also have practices this summer with two other teams: Aug. 4-6 at Washington's camp and home against the Eagles Aug. 12-13.

As for those important players, Rob Gronkowski not only has the weight of returning from a torn ACL to overcome this summer and fall, but the former All-Pro tight end is clearly the difference between the Patriots' undermanned offense being considered elite or simply run of the mill.

On the other side of the ball, first-year Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to transform a New England pass defense that's been, at best, a work in progress for years.

Gronkowski's value is obvious, both anecdotally and statistically. He is the lone Patriots pass-catcher with a proven history of playmaking, a guy that defenses must not only account for but try almost helplessly to stop on every snap.

A year ago after returning in Week 7 from a broken arm, subsequent infections and a back surgery - and before going down with a torn ACL on Dec. 8 against the Browns - Gronkowski caught 39 passes for 592 yards (15.2 average) with four touchdowns in just more than six games played.

In that stretch, the Patriots averaged 32.8 points per game and Brady had three of his four highest-rated games of the season.

In the 10 games Gronkowski missed to injury, New England averaged 25.7 points a game, slightly more than a touchdown less than when the star tight end was in the lineup.

According to NFL Network, the Patriots are planning to have Gronkowski on the field for their Week 1 game in Miami. It's unknown how much time he will have had before that to get in game shape. Still, it's a plan that is likely applauded not only by Brady and members of the passing attack, such as wide receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson and running back Shane Vereen. Their jobs are more doable with Gronkowski drawing attention of defenses on every snap.

Edelman re-signed last season to return as the No. 1 target for Brady after notching career bests with 105 catches, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns last season. It was the first year he was able to stay healthy in his first five seasons, and also his first chance at regular playing time with the departure of Wes Welker.

While Edelman took advantage of his chances in 2013, Amendola suffered a torn groin in Week 1 and never got on track in his first season after signing a $30 million deal in New England. Despite a career-high 11.7-yard average on his 54 receptions, Amendola was never a consistent playmaker nor a favored target of Brady in 2013. Given his contract, he'll be expected to do more in his second season or his time with the Patriots might not last much longer than that. Dobson had 37 catches for 519 yards and four scores as a rookie second-round pick. He missed the bulk of the offseason after foot surgery, but will certainly be expected to compete for the starting job on the outside and make big strides in his second season. He's likely the team's most talented outside receiver with the potential to make some plays down the field.

LaFell was brought aboard through free agency and could compete for a role as a bigger possession receiver and maybe even extra tight end. LaFell had career highs with 49 catches and five touchdowns with the Panthers last fall, but also brings a reputation for too many dropped passes as he tries to build a rapport with Brady, something that got off to a slow start as the veteran missed a big chunk of spring practice to an unknown injury.

New England is also hoping for a transformational impact from Revis in his first year in the back end of the team's defense. Not only will he be expected to pick up where free-agent departure Aqib Talib left off as a man coverage corner capable of matching up with the opponents' top target each week, but he's expected to make those around him that much better.

The idea is that Revis' shutdown coverage will make someone like free safety Devin McCourty better, that much more capable of making plays himself and that it will give the pass rush more time to work, giving Chandler Jones a chance to make an even greater jump in production coming off his team-high 11.5 sacks in his second season.

The rest of the secondary should also benefit from the presence of Revis. Brandon Browner, who will serve a four-game suspension to open the year, will add to New England's preferred man-coverage packages. The big corner didn't do much moving around in Seattle, so that will be a concern, but he offers size that head coach Bill Belichick hasn't had in the past.

Duron Harmon is penciled in as the starter at the other safety spot, but is by no means a sure thing. The second-year former third-round pick was a backup to Steve Gregory a year ago and drew praise from the coaches for his communication skills. He's talked about improving his man coverage this summer, but still doesn't fill the role of a true, tone-setting strong safety.

While Browner is the presumed starter opposite Revis when he's eligible to play, returning starter Alfonzo Dennard and budding second-year player Logan Ryan might have something to say about that. Dennard has been serviceable as a No. 2 corner in each of his first two seasons, but coming off shoulder surgery hasn't practiced yet this spring. Kyle Arrington is a well-paid slot corner that the coaching staff trusts even if he's prone to a few ugly coverage hiccups over the course of the season. The veteran is certainly better on the inside than when forced outside, but still isn't without his warts.

Revis is two years removed from a torn ACL. He played all 16 games for Tampa Bay last year, but should only be better this year given the extra time to recover.

Revis recently told ESPN that his knee is totally healthy and he can do things now he couldn't last season even though he played 16 games.

While Brady may not be the best quarterback in the game at this point - a topic of much internet-driven debate this spring - it's quite easy to make the argument that Gronkowski is the best tight end in football when healthy and Revis the top corner when on top of his game.

Those two players, as much as Brady or maybe even more so, could decide just how far the Patriots are built to go in 2014. For a team that's been to three straight AFC title games, but hasn't won a Super Bowl since 2004 the target is easy to figure out yet difficult to accomplish - February in Glendale, Ariz., for Super Bowl XLIX.

Here is a snapshot of the Patriots lineup going into training camp:

--QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Tom Brady. Backups - Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo.

--RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Stevan Ridley. Backups - Shane Vereen, FB James Develin, James White, Brandon Bolden, Stephen Houston, Roy Finch, Jonas Gray.

--TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Rob Gronkowski. Backups - Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams, Justin Jones, Asa Watson.

--WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson. Backups - Brandon LaFell, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Matthew Slater, Jeremy Gallon, Wilson Van Hooser, Jeremy Johnson, Reese Wiggins.

--OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer. Backups - T Marcus Cannon, T Cameron Fleming, OL Josh Kline, C Bryan Stork, G Jon Halapio, C/G Braxton Cave, C/G Chris Barker, T Jordan Devey, OL Chris Martin.

--DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Rob Ninkovich, DT Vince Wilfork, DT Tommy Kelly, RDE Chandler Jones. Backups -- E Will Smith, T Dominique Easley, T Armond Armstead, E Michael Buchanan, T Chris Jones, T Sealver Siliga, Zach Moore, T Joe Vellano, Marcus Forston, E Jake Bequette, Seali'i Epenesa, T L.T. Tuipulotu.

--LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Jamie Collins, MLB Jerod Mayo, SLB Dont'a Hightower. Backups -- OLB James Anderson, MLB Steve Beauharnais, MLB Josh Hull, MLB Chris White, OLB Cameron Gordon, LB Darius Fleming, LB Ja'Gared Davis, LB Taylor McCuller, LB Deontae Skinner.

--DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Darrelle Revis, FS Devin McCourty, SS Duron Harmon, RCB Brandon Browner. Backups -- CB Kyle Arrington, CB Alfonzo Dennard, CB Logan Ryan, SS Patrick Chung, DB Jemea Thomas, SS Nate Ebner, S Tavon Wilson, CB Justin Green, S Kanorris Davis, CB Daxton Swanson, S Shamiel Gary, DB Travis Hawkins, CB Malcolm Butler.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Danny Aiken, LS Tyler Ott.

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