Both periods offer up many newsworthy discussions and changes as the allure of signing and adding new and promising talents to the depth chart cannot be understated.
There's plenty of news and updates to be had on the players already with the team, however, especially with regard to players recovering from injuries and surgical procedures. Here I'll examine the health status of the most prominent injured Patriots.
It was on January 22nd that Rob Gronkowski suffered the ankle roll-up that so limited him in the Super Bowl. If you took him at his word the ankle injury didn't hinder him at all in the game; Gronkowski simply refused to make any excuses for his lack of production.
You shouldn't listen to him though.
"I'm just chilling. Just in a walking boot, getting better every day. Every week getting better and can't wait until I'm 100 percent healthy so I can get out there and do what we have to do in the offseason."
Gronkowski had apparently played through an injury that would have landed him on the IR in normal circumstances. The record-setting tight end had "multiple ligaments" repaired in the ankle on February 10th and was given a recovery timetable of 10 weeks, according to the Boston Globe.
Given the severity of the injury, it would be a surprise if Gronkowski managed to ready himself for spring OTAs held in April. However, he should be all systems go for training camp.
Pictured is Logan Mankins celebrating his fumble recovery touchdown during the 2006 AFC Championship game.
Mankins almost got himself airborne during that championship matchup, but circumstances were a bit different during the Patriots' most recent big game. The 310-pounder likely would have had much more trouble performing that jumping maneuver during the 2012 Super Bowl.
Mankins first showed up on New England's injury report following their Week 16 game against Miami. The team listed him with a sprained MCL and Mankins sat out the final game of regular season. He was back for the playoffs though, and he played with no visible limitations.
No visible limitations.
At some point, either during the Super Bowl or back in Week 16, Mankins also tore his ACL. The timetable of the injury is up for debate at the moment as the team wishes to keep his recovery under wraps.
Either way, Mankins was on the field playing for the Lombardi Trophy with one heck of a messed-up knee. That's complete and utter dedication and an odd amount of manliness right there, wow.
Projecting when he gets back on the field would require speculation right now, but it's looking like the solid bets are being placed on him missing some time in 2012.
Calm down, if you hadn't already heard about this injury, it's nothing to get excited about now.
Tom Brady dealt with some shoulder discomfort as the 2011 regular season wore on, showing up on the injury report multiple times with his throwing arm listed.
During the Super Bowl, Brady reportedly aggravated that injury with some going as far to call it a shoulder sprain. The hit by Giants' defender Justin Tuck was vicious enough to cause backup Brian Hoyer to start warming up, but Brady remained in the game.
He only completed 7-of-17 passes from there on out, and he threw his one-and-only interception of the day following the hit.
Either way, lets not dwell on the past; it appears he avoided major injury once again and that's certainly the main concern now with the 2012 season on deck.
Many may still be wondering why Andre Carter, owner of 10 sacks in 14 starts in 2011, is still sitting on the free-agent market.
Carter's agent and Patriots' representatives have traded positive remarks about one another for the entire length of the offseason, but nothing has yet come of it. That's most likely due to Carter's recovery process.
As the not-so-proud owner of a torn quad myself, I can attest to the long recovery and rehab timetable.
New England is likely waiting things out and allowing Carter to reach a healthy state before engaging in serious negotiations. Until that happens, don't expect much of an update on this scenario.
Prediction though? Two-year deal with a team-friendly salary, maybe $2–2.5 million annually.
Another member of the surprise offseason surgery club, Brandon Spikes is currently recovering from a knee scope performed last month.
The second-year pro missed seven games with a sprained MCL, but returned for the entire playoff run and played a huge role in said run. Like Mankins, Spikes waited until after the season to have his procedure, which was required in order to clean cartilage out the knee.
Scopes and "cleaning" procedures are generally some of the least invasive surgeries that a player could undergo, so Spikes should have no limitations come training camp.
Ras-I Dowling was a highly touted prospect at this time last year.
He's a physical freak at cornerback for the Patriots at 6'1". Rarely the owner of both a tall and talented defensive back, New England is hoping Dowling can step up and contribute in 2012 after missing nearly all of his rookie season.
As a rookie, he was able to step in with a shortened offseason and earn himself immediate playing time in 2011.
Dowling had beat out incumbents Kyle Arrington and Leigh Bodden before a torn tendon in his hip area forced the team to place him on the IR just two weeks into the regular season. That loss proved to be a tough blow to the cornerback unit.
A whole season spent studying the playbook can't possibly hurt his chances of understanding the defensive schemes. One concerning element is the fact that Dowling was an injury concern coming out of college and did eventually require surgery to repair the tear.
Peter King of SportsIllustrated.com offered an update on Dowling's recovery process in February, saying the rehab was going "very well," and that Dowling would be ready for "most, if not all" of the Patriots' offseason schedule of events.
Sebastian Vollmer deserves some credit, or a hug, or something.
The former All-Pro had a rough time in 2011, only making five starts while his team competed in 18.
There's no doubt the Patriots are a better team with Vollmer healthy and on the field, but after last season, I'm sure there's at least some doubt about whether that's a manageable goal.
Nate Solder is in the fold long term, Marcus Cannon is supposedly seen as a tackle prospect by those in New England and the Patriots also have Matt Light under contact for practically nothing in 2012.
It's still a little unclear what the tackle depth charts will look like next season given the struggles Vollmer experienced last year. With health though, there's not much of an argument against him.
The Patriots invested nearly $10 million in a center this offseason, but his name wasn't Dan Koppen.
Dan Connolly is the proud new owner of that deal and probably the new owner of the starting center position going forward.
Koppen missed the majority of 2011 as he was placed on the IR following a serious ankle injury. He was lost during the first game of the season, which has given him ample time to recover, but the team appears to be moving on regardless.
Once considered one of the young up-and-comers on the Patriots defensive line, injuries have largely derailed that hype for Myron Pryor.
Since entering the league with New England in 2009 as a sixth-round pick, Pryor's career has all but fizzled out. He made 13 appearances as a rookie, collecting 20 tackles as an interior presence.
But injuries had forced him to miss three games and in 2010 he missed seven more. Trending in the complete wrong direction in 2011, Pryor was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury after vacating just the second game of the season.
He's under contract, but he's also under a lot of pressure to stay healthy and prove something this offseason.
While he was placed on the "injured reserve" list last year, I'm not so convinced he wasn't just permanently benched.
However, as a second-round pick from a talented class, Bill Belichick and the Patriots aren't quite ready to call it on Cunningham, who heads into his third season next year.
Give him credit for getting on the field as a rookie and making an impact (11 starts, 34 tackles). There is also an argument to be made for the difficulty of switching to a 4-3 base defense.
Cunningham probably didn't stand much of a chance at truly beating out his veteran competition either, especially with the shortened training camps.
Like Pryor, 2012 is a big prove-it year for Cunningham.
Plucked from the Denver Broncos roster in 2010 via IR waivers, Josh Barrett has kept the injured motif going while in New England.
Barrett was thrown into the starting lineup early on in 2011 as he started the first four weeks of the season. He made 13 tackles in that span but would have to wait four more weeks to see the field again due to hamstring and thumb ailments.
He finally returned in Week 9, only to be placed on injured reserve the following week. The free-agency addition of Steve Gregory doesn't help Barrett's chances of sticking with the Patriots long term.
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