We're just about two weeks into the Patriots' training camp, and we've had one ugly preseason game, a plethora of physical full-pad practices, and a legion of fans ready to call Chad "The Chad" Jackson a bust. Yes, football is back, and things are starting to take shape for the 2008 Pats.
The biggest issue at this time is injuries.
Yesterday, the team was missing 17 players from practice. With the newly reduced roster size of 80 players, that's nearly a quarter of the Pats nursing some kind of ailment.
The offensive line and defensive backfield have been the hardest hit, though Tank Williams remains the only player to have his season ended and be placed on injured reserved, and we should take that as a good thing.
We're going to maintain a positive outlook and just assume that Bill Belichick is taking his time bringing players back, so the injuries don't get any worse. It's been an extremely physical camp for the Pats, and they are paying the price for it.
Matt Light was present at yesterday's walkthrough, though he did not take part. This is a good sign that he will return to the mix before the regular season.
Once Light does return, the only major question mark will be at right guard, where Stephen Neal is still on PUP and Russ Hochstein has been MIA since limping off the field in the Ravens game.
That leaves Billy Yates as the starter, who has filled in admirably in the past, but looked like junk in last week's game (along with the rest of the O-line). An offensive line that can give Brady the time he needs is absolutely vital to the success of the 2008 Pats.
As for the defensive backs, it's tough to get a read on anyone other than Fernando Bryant, who looks pretty good, and Terrence Wheatley, who also looked okay in his first NFL action.
The list of those DBs not practicing includes Rodney Harrison, James Sanders, Jonathan Wilhite, Jason Webster, Mike Richardson, and Lewis Sanders. It's impossible to know how badly injured any of them are, but none have been put on IR. At least Ellis Hobbs is back with the first team.
Still, there's reason to be at least marginally concerned, especially at safety, where Brandon Meriweather is the only one left practicing who's had any (somewhat) significant playing time in the NFL.
The most positive element to gleam from camp thus far is the youth infusion at linebacker. Jerod Mayo, Shawn Crable, and Gary Guyton have all shown flashes of potential.
The age/speed of the Patriots' linebacking crew has been a weakness that the critics have harped on the past couple years. Now it looks like the next generation of starters has been found and should add some speed and enthusiasm to a defense that couldn't get a stop when they needed it most the last two seasons.
As long as the Pats can get healthy over the next few weeks, they should be on track to start off the season with a bang against the Chiefs.
It will be interesting in Week Two against the Jets, not only because of "the Unretired One," but also because the Jets have gone in the exact opposite direction in terms of the intensity of training camp.
While the Pats have been going full pads, the Jets have had a more relaxed atmosphere with more days off.
We'll be back later in the week with what to watch for in preseason game two versus the Buccaneers.
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