New England Patriots 2010 Training Camp: 10 Observations From Days 6-9
We're now over a week into training camp, and have hit what is often referred to as the "dog days" of training camp. It's hot, it's competitive, players are tired, and this is where the stress starts to build up.
The usual suspects—Logan Mankins and Derrick Burgess—still have yet to show up for camp, but others have missed time with injuries.
As is to be expected, though, players are stepping up in the face of adversity to make a case for a roster spot or a starting job.
Here are some key observations from the previous four days of training camp.
1. Thin on the Defensive Line
Several players have missed time due to injury, but most notably, four defensive linemen have been missing from practice. Ty Warren, Myron Pryor, Ron Brace, and Mike Wright have all been banged up and missed time as a result.
Pryor returned to action August 6. Brace and Wright have both been doing rehab work, so they could be back sooner than later. Two offseason acquisitions, veterans Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren, have seen a bulk of the reps as a result of the absences.
Belichick says that both are, "very experienced guys with real productive careers at other places. We're asking them to do some things a little differently than what they've done in the past. Our defense is just structured a little differently, but I think they have adapted very well"
The youth movement is in full swing, but these guys could be the starters by camp's end.
2. Nick Kaczur Could Be Out for the Season
As mentioned earlier, Logan Mankins is still absent from practice in a contract dispute.
Nick Kaczur, who had moved to guard in his place, is now also off the field after injuring his back. He calls the injury "significant" and, according to Pro Football Talk, he could miss the season. Options are running thin on the offensive line.
Next in line is Dan Connolly, who has played in 19 games and started four—all of which came last year in place of the injured Stephen Neal. Connolly was effective when called upon, but it will be up to offensive line guru Dan Scarnecchia to help him grow into a full-time starter if that's what's asked of him, as well as to expedite the development of Thomas Welch and Ted Larsen into serviceable back-ups.
3. Gary Guyton Injured His Knee
Gary Guyton appeared to injure his knee on August 1. He has been out since then. If he doesn’t return soon, he could risk losing his starting job to either sophomore Tyrone McKenzie or rookie Brandon Spikes.
Belichick is high on McKenzie, saying he, “really understands the defense. He's good with the calls and the communication and adjustments and really understands what we're doing…He's more like a veteran player than a rookie, but he still has a lot of on-the-field fundamental work to do.”
But don’t count Spikes out just yet; Belichick says that Spikes’ transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 front has been “a good one”. He also says that there are, “a couple things that [Spikes] was doing that are not exactly the way that everybody does them, but he does them effectively and I don't think he needs to change them, but it's just a little bit different.”
4. Three Horse Race for No. 1 Cornerback Job
Most people were convinced that Leigh Bodden was the incumbent starter at cornerback after the team signed him to a three-year contract this offseason. Devin McCourty and Darius Butler have taken some reps side-by-side, and both appear to be in the mix for the starting job.
We may never truly know who the No. 1 cornerback is for this defense. It could turn out to be a stable with which Belichick is able to mix up coverages and take advantage of match-ups. He loves versatile players, and could take advantage of three cornerbacks who excel in different situations and match-ups.
5. Aaron Hernandez Could be a Key Player for The Patriots in 2010
The Patriots Football Weekly crew has noted time and time again that Hernandez is drawing a lot of attention at training camp; not just from spectators, but from Tom Brady as well. He's made some impressive catches for touchdowns, first downs, and some difficult ones as well.
On August 3, Brady was knee-to-knee with Aaron Hernandez after the rookie tight end went down with an injury. They talked for about ten minutes, and it appeared to be a very serious conversation.
In the August 5 practice, the PFW crew noted that three guys caught passes in red area work: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez. “Hernandez is quickly becoming a new stand-by with Brady, getting a lot of extra advice, coaching, time—[on the] sideline, field.”
With the amount of attention Hernandez is receiving, it would appear that he is in the mix to contribute early and often for the Patriots in 2010.
6. You Don’t Mess with The Zoltan
Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko may not have been totally consistent in week one of practice, but over the past few days he’s been unleashing some bombs. The Patriots Football Weekly crew pointed out that the majority of his punts from day six “had the return man back-peddling several steps.”
He hasn’t been shanking many kicks, and has been progressing in terms of his directional control; when he hits the sideline, it’s intentional. Belichick is confident in his punter, and doesn't feel the need to bring in another punter.
7. The Relationship Between The Patriots and Tom Brady Isn't Strained
Reports have been swirling like a cyclone that the relationship between the Patriots and Tom Brady has grown cold, but Patriots president Johnathan Kraft dispelled those rumors Friday on New England sports radio station WEEI's "Dale and Holley Show".
Kraft attributed the delay in Brady's extension to the uncertain landscape of the CBA moving forward, saying, "from a team's perspective—without knowing the rules of the salary cap and how dollars are going to be allocated going forward and how other rules are going to work—you want to be sure you 're not going to do something that's going to hamstring you long term."
Still, the Patriots strongly believe something will get done, and that Tom Brady will be the quarterback of the Patriots for many years to come.
8. Wes Welker Appears to be the Same Wes Welker
The PFW crew pointed out that apart from the brace he’s been wearing, Wes Welker looks like the same guy as before. At this point, a Week 1 appearance by Welker is all but a sure thing. With that, none of it means a thing until we see him in game-time action and see him produce at the level we're used to.
Does he still have the quickness to get open?
Does he still have the signature ability to make guys miss and create first downs?
We'll learn all that, hopefully in Week 1, but surely by the end of the season.
9. No Additions at Outside Linebacker
The lack of depth at outside linebacker has become a hot-button issue in New England. As mentioned earlier, Derrick Burgess is still out of action. The team still has Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich as options to line up on the opposite side of Tully Banta-Cain, but the Patriots are simply suffering from a lack of bodies at this point.
With that, many have speculated that the team will pursue one of the outside linebackers that remains a free agent.
The team has already worked out former Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. With Aaron Schobel recently released by the Buffalo Bills, some expected him to be targeted. The Patriots haven't made a move in either direction as of yet, so they're either happy with where they're at currently, or they're waiting to see if any of their current players make a solid case for the starting job before bringing in more competition for the spot.
10. Tom Brady Taking Leadership Role Seriously
The Patriots severely lacked leadership last season, as mentioned in my previous training camp recap. Tom Brady, admittedly, "sucked at that" last year, and he's doing everything in his power to rectify that situation.
I mentioned earlier that Brady has taken the development of Aaron Hernandez to heart, but it goes further than that.
The offense has struggled in two-minute drills and red area work, and Brady's not standing for it. He has been barking at his teammates, holding people accountable at all times. He expects perfection, and wants to get the most out of the offensive unit.
No one wants to be the guy that made Brady have second thoughts about being a Patriot for the long-term, so you can bet your bottom dollar that players will do whatever it takes to keep him happy.
The Saints march into Foxborough Tuesday and Wednesday for three joint practices with the Patriots, leading up to the first preseason game of the year on August 12.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots measure up to the Super Bowl Champions, even if it is only practice. I will get to see it live, as I'll be attending two of the practices. Check back for an update on Thursday, recapping my observations from the practices.
Thanks for reading!