The Patriots’ first public training camp practice is Thursday, July 29, and with 82 players on the roster, there is plenty to analyze. ESPNBoston.com has picked what it feels are the top eight aspects to monitor. As part of the “Countdown to Camp”, they will be counted down with one each day leading up to the first practice.
No. 5: Development of young defensive backs
Why it’s a top issue: The Patriots have veteran Leigh Bodden returning at right cornerback, but the left side will primarily be a competition between Darius Butler (2009 second-round pick) and Devin McCourty (2010 first-round pick). Also, on a defense in need of more playmaking, the team would presumably want to see 2009 second-round pick Patrick Chung step into a starting role.
Reason for Patriots optimism: Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said that Butler and Chung were two of the team's offseason award winners. They are making the big jump from rookie to Year 2, and that is often when the most significant improvement is made.
Historical perspective: The last time Bill Belichick was relying on such youth at left cornerback was 2005, when Asante Samuel stepped in as a full-time starter in his third season.
Xs and Os thought: With Bodden, Butler and McCourty the projected top players at the outside cornerback spots, it should allow Jonathan Wilhite -- a 2008 fourth-round draft choice -- to focus primarily on slot duties. That's a better fit for Wilhite.
Looking to the future: Chung played approximately 20 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2009, and only 16 total snaps over the team's final four games. That playing time total figures to rise considerably this year.
Fun fact: Ravens running back Willis McGahee is Butler's cousin.
No. 8 -- Tight ends & the red zone
No. 7 -- Linebackers & development
No. 6 -- Third option at WR