The Patriots’ first public training camp practice is Thursday, July 29 and 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. 1: Managing Wes Welker in his return from injury
Why it’s a top issue: Welker's importance to the offense is reflected in his pass-catching statistics the past three seasons -- 112, 111, 123. That total leads all NFL receivers over that time. He is one of the NFL's best players when it comes to yards after the catch.
Where things stand: Welker was placed on the active/physically unable to perform list on Tuesday. He is eligible to come off the list at any time. His recovery remains on schedule.
Xs and Os thought: Welker's role in the offense has served as an extension of the running game at times. The effective wide receiver screen pass to Welker is recorded as a reception and factors into receiving-yardage totals, but most of the yardage gained on those plays comes after the catch.
Not to be overlooked: Welker has served as one of the NFL's top punt returners the past three seasons. The Patriots figure to limit his repetitions in that role initially as he works his way back, which means Julian Edelman could emerge there.
Roster thought: If the Patriots keep Welker on the active/PUP list, one of the trickle-down effects is that it will provide more repetitions to evaluate younger receivers on the roster. Edelman (2009 seventh-round pick), Brandon Tate (2009 third-round pick) and Taylor Price (2010 third-round pick) fall into that category.
Fun fact: Texas Tech was the only Division I school to offer Welker a scholarship. The offer came only after another player backed out of his commitment.
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
No. 3 -- Defensive changes
No. 2 -- Logan Mankins and the offensive line