NFL: Five Patriots Who Need a Good Training Camp

Mike DussaultSenior Analyst IJuly 15, 2008

Matt Cassel—Personally I don’t really care if Cassel sticks with the team, gets cut or signs a huge contract with some other team that overpays him just because he’s had a few years of holding Tom Brady’s jock.


I’m sick of the “hasn’t started a game since high school” card and frankly, I’ve never felt very confident that Cassel could keep the ship running smoothly if, Belichick forbid, Brady had to miss any time.


Matt Gutierrez, by all accounts, is one of those first-at-practice, last-to-leave, annoying overachiever types that no one likes having breathe down their neck and fourth-round pick Kevin O’Connell looks like some kind of athletic freak who needs time to develop. Neither looks ready to start an NFL game just yet.


Thus, Cassel should stick around for another season. However his contract ends this year and he’ll need a good camp since this will be, Belichick willing, the only time he’ll get any significant playing time. If he performs well in camp and preseason it could mean a shot from another team or an extension from the Pats.


David Thomas—There was a time not so long ago when tight ends were a vital cog in the Patriots offense. But as we’ve seen with their lack of activity in bolstering the position this offseason, that is no longer the case.


Sure, they added fossil Marcus Pollard, but if he plays like he did for Seattle last year he may not make it out of training camp. Ben Watson is almost guaranteed to miss as many games with injuries as he has touchdown catches and Steven Spach is just another guy off the street.


That leaves Thomas, who spent all but one game last year on IR. He showed some flashes in 2006, including an excellent diving catch for a touchdown against the Jaguars, but for the most part the jury is still out on him.


Thomas needs to show he’s healthy and ready to go from the start of training camp. The depth at tight end is the thinnest of any position on the roster and the Pats cannot afford another injury-filled season from the third year player out of Texas.


He needs to not only stay healthy, but contribute in both the running and passing game.


Jerod Mayo—For years Patriots fans have been waiting for Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli to draft the heir apparent to Tedy Bruschi. Some thought that Belichick just preferred using veterans at linebacker but now we know that wasn’t the case.


Enter Mayo, who is surrounded by early buzz that he’ll be able to contribute immediately. The team has been trying to get younger and faster on defense for years and if Mayo “gets it” from the get go the Patriots defense will be improved and looking good for the future.


The amount of money the Pats are about to pay Mayo also factors into it, missing on a tenth-overall pick can be a salary cap crippler. Just ask the Lions.


Fernando Bryant—Speaking of the Lions, Fernando Bryant was one of the less-heralded free agent signings of the spring but could very well be a vital member of the 2008 Pats. Belichick has had success in the past starting rookie cornerbacks but the wily veteran Bryant should have the inside track to replace Asante Samuel.


Bryant is the kind of player the Patriots have built much of their dynasty on—vets who take less money to win. If he can grasp the defense and remains healthy, odds are high that he will hold off youngsters Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite.


Look for Bryant to be occupying Samuel’s old spot at left cornerback at the start of camp. Whether or not he remains there will be up to him.


Chad Jackson—Can you feel the pressure that’s slowly building on Chad this offseason? You can’t read a Patriots offseason article without the mention of the 2006 second-round pick and how this is a “make-or-break year” for him.


When Deion Branch was traded away a few weeks into the 2006 season it was the hope of many that the rookie Jackson would rise to the occasion and become a top-tier receiving threat.


He didn’t. He pulled a hamstring, caught a couple TDs and then seriously injured his knee in the AFC Championship which resulted in off-season surgery. That, along with the Randy Moss/ Wes Welker/ Dante Stallworth additions, ended his 2007 season, though he did return five kicks.


So here we are, year three, when young wide receivers are supposed to start “getting it”. Chad is healthy and there isn’t the log jam at his position like there was last year.


In actuality, all  Jackson needs to do is have a solid season as the number four receiver. No one expects him to supplant Randy Moss, Wes Welker or even Jabar Gaffney, though that would be nice.


If Jackson has Brady looking his way in camp and preseason it could bode well for the Pats chances at having another offensive juggernaut with a new wrinkle in 2008.