FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots have had 17 training camp practices without a day off and the breakdown looks like this:
Full pads -- 12
Shorts/light shoulder pads -- 2
Walkthroughs -- 3
That's a lot of contact, and with the New Orleans Saints coming to town next Tuesday and Wednesday for joint practices, it wouldn't be surprising if Bill Belichick gives the team at least one day off this weekend.
This seems like a good breaking point, and with that in mind, here are five things we've learned about the Patriots through their difficult opening stretch of camp:
1. They are young, but talented, in some key spots. The New York Jets created an offseason buzz by signing and acquiring big-name veterans, stealing many AFC East headlines from the Patriots, who have gone the opposite direction by loading up in the draft. This team has some promising talent from the last two drafts that has yet to emerge from a national perspective -- such as cornerback Darius Butler, safety Patrick Chung, receiver Julian Edelman, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and tight ends Aaron Heranandez and Rob Gronkowski -- and their contributions will be a big factor in the team's success.
2. Bill Belichick is leading the defense, but Matt Patricia will be a big factor on game-day. Belichick's decision not to name official coordinators has led some to think he's trying to do it all. Clearly, that's not the case. One theme that has been evident is that Belichick is coaching the defense when it comes to installation, but linebackers coach Matt Patricia is the point person when it comes to communicating the play-call from the sideline to the field on game day. This is an important distinction, because it will allow Belichick to remain focused on overall game management on the sideline, not solely the defense.
3. The offensive line and pass rush are question marks. Because of the absence of Logan Mankins, and with Nick Kaczur having missed 11 straight practices, the Patriots are down to their third layer of depth at left guard. That is a concern to monitor in the coming days and it's shown up at times on the goal-line when the offensive line hasn't generated consistent push. On the other side of the ball, Derrick Burgess' unexpected decision not to report to camp has left the team one pass rusher short.
4. Wes Welker's return is a remarkable story. Little more needs to be said. Welker wants to play in the season opener Sept. 12 against the Bengals and if he keeps progressing as quickly as he has to this point, he'll have a solid chance to be in the huddle. Welker first day of practice drew a record crowd of 10,010 spectators for one session, which seems to reflect how revered he is by the team's fans.
5. Tom Brady's fire still burns. The franchise quarterback is as competitive and fiery as ever. During a practice this week, he lit into his offensive teammates because of sloppy play, his voice booming across the practice field. Brady has more weapons in the passing game to throw to than last year.