Cleaning out the Patriots notebook

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cleaning out the Patriots notebook one week into training camp:

1. There had been chatter during labor negotiations that practice squads could expand from eight players, but Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said it is his expectation that number will remain at eight. The Patriots have made good use of their practice squad, often grooming players before they are promoted and make an impact on the 53-man roster (e.g. Sergio Brown in 2010), so the opportunity to keep more players would help in this post-lockout environment. "That number hasn’t changed, until the league tells us otherwise. It’s normally eight, so we’ll work off that number," Caserio said. "I don’t think there’s going to be any change, but we’ll see. There are a lot of moving parts, as there usually are."

2. Last two players off the field Wednesday night as they stayed late to sign autographs -- second-year inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett.

3. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski looks strong coming back from a torn quad muscle. He hit from plus-50 in field-goal work Wednesday night. I haven't seen him take any kickoffs yet, as the coaching staff manages his return carefully.

4. Listening to Caserio, I got the sense that the staff wasn't overly thrilled with the overall condition of the club. "I think we’ve got a ways to go," Caserio said. "Usually when you get to training camp, guys are in pretty good shape. Everybody had different programs that they were on and they weren’t under our watch, so it’s kind of hard to monitor that. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I think we’re headed in the right direction."

5. The defense has been utilizing a four-man line through the first week of camp, and I watched the ends closely on Wednesday night, trying to get a better feel for that position. Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore top the depth chart in that set-up, with Rob Ninkovich getting some time. I also saw sixth-round pick Markell Carter and rookie free agent Clay Nurse get some quality reps. The ability of those players to stand up as a linebacker at any time provides flexibility within the multiple scheme, but this is the area I think the club is looking for a little more depth.