<
>

Brandin Cooks' chemistry with Tom Brady among Pats' OTA storylines

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots move to the third phase of the voluntary offseason program this week, holding their first organized team activity on Monday. Players can now be at the facility for up to six hours and take part in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

While the first OTA open to the media isn’t until Thursday, here are a few things of particular interest in the no-pads setting:

Cooks’ chemistry. The Patriots are loaded at wide receiver with the addition of speedy Brandin Cooks, who joins an already solid depth chart of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola. When watching an OTA, it is commonplace to hear quarterback Tom Brady talking to his pass-catchers about how precise he likes routes to be run as the work begins to develop a foundation to take into training camp. Cooks, in particular, will be one to watch.

Gilmore and Butler at corner. After an offseason of uncertainty as to whether Malcolm Butler would be back in New England, the Patriots can now boast that they have arguably one of the NFL’s best 1-2 cornerback tandems with Butler and Stephon Gilmore. This will be their first chance to work together in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills -- where coaches often stress the importance of communication -- with reporters also potentially getting a feel for which cornerback the coaching staff currently views as the top option in the slot in a three-corner nickel package.

Any sign of Gronkowski? Tight end Rob Gronkowski is making progress in his return from back surgery that prematurely ended his 2016 season, and this will be a chance for further context on how far along he is. If Gronkowski can get in the ring as part of a WWE show, is it unreasonable to think he could be on the field in a non-contact, no-pads setting?

A new look at running back. While running backs coach Ivan Fears has passionately pointed out that it isn’t real football until players are in full pads, this will be a first look at how natural Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead look catching the football. They join James White, Dion Lewis and D.J. Foster atop the depth chart in a new-look backfield. The Patriots no longer have a big, power rusher with LeGarrette Blount now in Philadelphia, as Gillislee has a similar physical makeup as Stevan Ridley at 218 pounds.