Reporters will have a chance to take in their second organized team activity on Thursday, and one area to watch will be special teams drills. Last week, the Patriots had a focus on the punt unit. On Thursday, kickoffs could be in the spotlight.
If that is the case, the team will likely have the same personnel at the position as last season, primarily Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman. Last season, those two players accounted for 32 of the team's 46 returned kickoffs:
2011 regular season
Danny Woodhead: 20 returns, 437 yards, 21.9 yard average, 0 TD
Julian Edelman: 12 returns, 284 yards, 23.7 yard average, 0 TD
Stevan Ridley: 7 returns, 152 yards, 21.7 yard average, 0 TD
Matthew Slater: 4 returns, 68 yards, 17.0 yard average, 0 TD
Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich: 1 return each
Overall, while keeping in mind that kickoff returns are a team effort, the Patriots ranked 29th in the NFL in kick return average, at 21.4 yards. Only the Chiefs (21.3), Eagles (20.9), and Colts (18.6) were worse.
In 2010, the Patriots, led by a 25.8 yard average from Brandon Tate, ranked 18th in the league with a 22.0 overall return average.
Some were surprised that the team did not add a returner in last month's draft. As a result, Woodhead and Edelman remain the top return options heading into this season. However, there is precedent for the team adding a return specialist later in the offseason. In 2005, the Patriots signed veteran Chad Morton in late June; due to a knee injury, he missed training camp and was released following the preseason.
So what options are there on the free agent market this summer for kick returners? Here is a quick look:
Jerious Norwood -- The Rams running back/returner ranked 30th in the league last season with a 25.5 yard average on 24 returns. He played in just nine games last season, battling an illness and a hamstring injury.
Lorenzo Booker -- The Vikings running back/returner tied with Edelman with a 23.7 yard average on 19 returns. He played in 15 games, but had one fumble on a kick return and another three fumbles on offense.
Quinn Porter -- On 25 returns last season with the Rams, Porter had a 22.2 yard average.
Will Blackmon -- The Boston College and Bishop Hendricken HS standout enjoyed his best seasons as a returner with the Packers several years ago, but was a late-season addition to the Giants last season, where he returned two kickoffs for 43 yards. The cornerback has battled knee issues recently.