New England Patriots 2010 Training Camp: 10 Observations From Days 1-5
The Patriots opened up training camp on July 28, and there's a lot to be excited about for the upcoming 2010 campaign.
But, not everything is sunshine and roses in Foxborough (when is it ever?). Despite the bumps in the road, New England is doing what they do best: moving forward with what they have.
Here are ten key observations from New England's training camp since it began.
1. Logan Mankins and Derrick Burgess Still Absent
Logan Mankins is still in a contract dispute with New England's front office. His absence was expected. Nick Kaczur, who has never played a down at guard in the regular season, has been moved to guard in Mankins' place.
Derrick Burgess is at home contemplating retirement. He, however, was expected to participate.
Tully Banta-Cain balked at the notion that New England is now thin at outside linebacker, saying that if players are performing, there's no such thing as "thin".
As usual, the Patriots are doing what they need to do in order to compensate for the absences, and are only concerned with the players who are present.
2. Jermaine Cunningham Is Getting First-Team Reps
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If Burgess calls it a career, the pressure may immediately shift to Jermaine Cunningham to produce as a rookie.
The rookie has worked hard all offseason, and Bill Belichick is confident in Cunningham's ability to make the switch from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker.
There's no doubt that he can get after the quarterback, racking up 19.5 sacks in his college career. Even if he's not designated as the starter right from the start, his athleticism and speed make him an intriguing prospect as a situational pass-rusher, at least until he can grasp the playbook.
3. Brandon Tate and Taylor Price Are Impressive
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When Wes Welker went down with injury at the end of 2009, the Patriots immediately were charged with finding the answer to a man who reeled in 123 receptions.
Julian Edelman came on strong in downtime for Welker last year, both at the beginning and the end of the season. Despite that, it was fairly easy to observe that New England desperately needed another option in the passing game.
Enter Brandon Tate and Taylor Price. Tate has the vote of confidence from Belichick, who says that Tate's preparation, technique, and learning are all, "way, way ahead of where it was last year." He grabbed the attention of fans and teammates with a few diving and one-handed catches.
Although rookie wideouts tend to struggle in their first year Taylor Price has the burner speed that most receivers only dream of. Lining him up opposite Randy Moss could create match-up nightmares in certain situations.
But finding Welker's replacement may not be necessary...
4. Wes Welker Is Back In Action
Just seven months after tearing the ACL and damaging the MCL in his left knee, Wes Welker was reeling in passes from Tom Brady just like old days.
Welker was active for OTAs two months ago, wearing a brace as he participated in agility drills, but to pass the physical so shortly after the injury is truly nothing short of miraculous.
Admittedly, it's not all back just yet. As Bill Belichick said, the last ten to 20-percent of rehab is the toughest part, so we'll have to see where it all ends up.
5. Deep Competition at Inside Linebacker
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Jerod Mayo is the incumbent Pro Bowl-caliber starter in New England's linebacking corps. He has made plays all over the field for the Patriots the past two seasons, and it's anticipated that this could be a breakout year for the former Tennessee standout.
But it takes two to tango at inside linebacker in the 3-4 system. Gary Guyton has the edge of experience, although he struggled at times to diagnose plays (as evidenced in Ray Rice's 77-yard touchdown run to start the Wild Card blowout). His speed might be better suited for the outside.
Tyrone McKenzie sat out last year, but wasted no time drawing everyone's attention with a huge goal-line stuff of Laurence Maroney. He could be a dark horse candidate for the job.
Brandon Spikes was criticized for a slow 40-yard dash, which seemed to make people forget that he was considered to be a first-round pick during the season. He has great recognition against both the run and pass, and could serve as a great compliment for Mayo.
6. Devin McCourty Is More Than a Special Teams Player
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Controversial first-round selection Devin McCourty has caught a lot of unfair criticism because he is seen by some as a special teams player first, and defensive back second.
The Patriots aim to quickly dispel that line of thinking, though, as they continue to give McCourty plenty of reps with the first-team defense. He lined up opposite Leigh Bodden for the first part of day one practices, and opposite Darius Butler when Bodden was pulled.
Needless to say, the expectation is that McCourty will produce at a high level as a defensive back in New England.
Of course, he hasn't been perfect, and who would expect him to be? The Patriots have only held a combined ten total practices in training camp. And no matter how old Randy Moss gets, he can always make a defensive back look silly (especially a rookie).
7. Tom Brady Remains Mum On Contract Negotiations
"Coach doesn't like us talking about it a whole lot." About what you'd expect to hear from Tom Brady responding to a question about the uncertainty of his contract negotiations.
The media will continue to poke and prod at this situation until Brady's name is signed on the bottom line. Brady has been with the organization long enough to know how the Patriots usually handle these situations: keep your mouth shut, do your job, do it well, and in the end, you'll be rewarded.
Around this time last year, Vince Wilfork was also upset that he hadn't yet received an extension. Still, he was rewarded in the long run. What makes anyone think Tom Brady, one of the most important faces to just about any franchise this past decade, will be any different?
8. The Rookie Tight Ends Both Look Impressive
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9. Leaders Look Ready To Lead
One of the biggest problems for New England last year was a lack of leadership. It was pretty easy to see with the departures of several key veterans like Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, and Tedy Bruschi.
This year, several key players look ready to step up and be the vocal leaders that New England lacked last year.
Jerod Mayo has talked about it a lot this offseason. In an interview with NFL.com's Michael Lombardi, Mayo said, "We have a lot of young guys, but we have a lot of guys that want to win and want to play hard, and we have coach Belichick leading this defense and we're willing to follow."
Brandon Meriweather chuckled when Michael Lombardi referred to him as the "senior citizen" of the defense, but said, "It feels good that I'm one of the guys that has been playing the longest."
Look for both to be the faces of New England's defense for years to come.
10. Starting With A Clean Slate
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"Out with the old, in with the new" has been the philosophy for New England over the past few seasons. With the youth movement in full swing in Foxborough, these Patriots have a chance to make their own way.
Belichick would tell you that "the walls needed painting," but taking all the memorabilia from the dynasty era of New England is symbolic.
It's a fresh start. It's a chance for these Patriots to create their own identity, their own legacy.