Camp countdown: Defensive changes

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. 3: Potential defensive changes

Why it’s a top issue: There has been a significant alteration at the top of the defensive coaching staff, with defensive coordinator Dean Pees out after four seasons. Now Bill Belichick leads the defense. Although the Patriots finished fifth in the NFL for fewest points allowed per game last season (17.8 avg.), the defense struggled at times to come up with the key stop in critical situations.

Reason for Patriots optimism: Belichick's history working with defense coupled with players primed to make a leap from their first year to second year, which is traditionally when the greatest improvement is made.

Historical perspective: The Patriots allowed 272 points in their first Super Bowl-winning season, 238 points in the second Super Bowl-winning season and 260 points in the third. When looking at Belichick's tenure as Patriots coach, those seasons ranked 2-3-4 for fewest points allowed.

Xs and Os thought: One of the trademarks of Belichick's coaching philosophy is situational football. He believes games often come down to a handful of plays, and he'll drill the team on those situations over the course of the season, anticipating that they might surface at some point. If the defense is to improve, it will need to rise up in those critical situations better than it did last season.

Roster thought: The Patriots kept six defensive linemen on the roster at last year's final cutdown. If they do so again, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Mike Wright and Ron Brace seem like locks when balancing short- and long-term thinking from a team-building perspective. So Gerard Warren, Damione Lewis, Myron Pryor, Brandon Deaderick, Kade Weston and Darryl Richard would be the next six linemen vying for two spots.

Fun fact: Wilfork is the lone draft pick from 2004 remaining on the roster. Linebacker Eric Alexander was signed as a rookie free agent that year and he is also on the roster.

Camp Countdown:

No. 8 -- Tight ends & the red zone

No. 7 -- Linebackers & development

No. 6 -- Third option at WR

No. 5 -- Young defensive backs

No. 4 -- Tom Brady at the helm