The Patriots have had 9 days of training camp thus far, most with two-a-day sessions in full pads. There have been some walk-through’s and light pads sessions sprinkled in the mix, but it has predominantly been a full steam ahead camp. The Pats are taking their first break this weekend as the players are off until Monday morning. The team will have a walk-through from 10 am to 11:15 am and then have a regular practice in the afternoon from 3 pm to 4:30 pm. The Saints then come to town for joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday with the Pats’ first preseason game Thursday night. With the break this weekend, it’s a good time to reflect back on the first 9 days and see who’s been hot so far in camp and who’s not.
- Randy Moss. The wide receiver has been practicing like it’s the middle of the season. Virtually every ball his way gets caught and he moves smoothly and effortlessly through his routes. If this is Moss’ last season in New England, it looks it may be one the best of his career. To his credit, he has signed autographs for fans just about every day. I’m hoping he can re-sign with the team and finish his career a Patriot.
- Brandon Spikes. Once Gary Guyton went down with an injury, the rookie linebacker Spikes has practiced with the starting unit, sparingly being replaced by Tyrone McKenzie. Spikes looks every bit the real deal and reacts quickly to plays. Bill Belichick called him, “an interesting player to coach,” which is about as good a compliment a rookie is going to get at this point. I’m sticking by my prediction that Spikes will be starting next to Jerod Mayo on opening day against the Bengals.
- Brandon Tate. After missing most of his rookie season, the wide receiver has turned it on in camp and is making the Pats’ selection of him in the third round in last year’s draft, despite a knee injury at the time, look like a great one. He’s made some spectacular catches in camp, far outweighing his drops. Brady seems to be developing some confidence in the kid and he could be starting opposite Moss Week One.
- The rookie tight ends. Both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have been impressive thus far and appear to be a big part of the offensive plans this season. Hernandez seems to do his best work moving the chains while Gronkowski uses his massive size (6’6″) to out-position defenders in the red zone. Prediction: Hernandez will lead the Pats tight ends in catches and yards while Gronkowski will lead in touchdowns.
- Darius Butler. Butler is easily the most athletic corner on the roster and while not the strongest, is quick and gets in position to make interceptions. Unless he breaks down in the preseason games, I think it’s safe to say that Butler will be one of the starting corners.
Just missed the “hot” list: WR Wes Welker (just because), CB Devin McCourty, CB Kyle Arrington, RT Sebastian Vollmer, NT Vince Wilfork
- Ron Brace. Easily the most disappointing player at camp, the defensive end has yet to take the field and practice with his teammates. He is missing a golden opportunity at reps with the starting unit because of starters Ty Warren and Mike Wright sitting out with injuries. He has yet to practice reportedly because he has failed his conditioning test (a la Albert Haynesworth) due to cramping (the leg kind, not the female kind…I think). That’s not good news, especially when LB Shawn Crable was released for reportedly failing his conditioning test.
- Torry Holt. The veteran has looked a step behind the other receivers and has had his share of drops. He can still run crisp routes, which was a problem with last year’s veteran signing Joey Galloway. His roster spot seems, at the moment, to be dependent on how many wide-outs the team elects to keep. The influx of productive youth at the position could force Holt out of town. What he has working in his favor is his leadership, experience, and aforementioned route running. The preseason games could work in Holt’s favor if he can have solid performances getting off jams and the younger receivers struggle in that area.
- The running backs. None of the running backs have stood out or looked like they will be leading the stable that consists of Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Chris Taylor. Part of the problem could also be the problem that is the left guard position and overall shakey performance in the running game by the offensive line. The best time to see what the team has at RB will be in the preseason games when the team will be firing full-speed.
- Left guard. Logan Mankins is absent due to a contract dispute. His replacement, Nick Kaczur is out indefinitely with a back injury. That leaves a platoon of players with little experience left to fill the void at half of Brady’s blindside. The hope is that one of the younger players can assert himself and solidify the position (or Mankins ends his stand-off with the team and joins them in camp). LG will be a position of interest to watch during the preseason games and remaining camp practices.