Players and Positions

Brendan Stai wasn't the only veteran free agent in Foxborough last week. The club also confirmed that fullback Larry Centers was in town, although no deal was reached with the pass-catching back.

The team's starting fullback, Fred McCrary has been out of action after tweaking his hamstring in pre-camp workouts. Centers was not re-signed by Buffalo in the offseason, but is the type of player that would fit well in the Patriots system assuming he still has gas left in his tank. The team tried to sign Richie Anderson in the offseason to fill the need for a receiving threat out of the backfield, but he signed with Dallas. Kevin Faulk is dangerous out of the backfield, but the Patriots would like to have a pass catching weapon at fullback as well.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: David Givens vs. Dedric Ward for the last wide receiver spot -- Givens is getting a chance to show he belongs, taking more reps than the rest of the receivers. The club wants to be sure it knows what it has in the second-year wideout, so he will get a long look. Ward is a known commodity who has played under some of the Patriots coaches while with the Jets. His advantage comes in his ability to return punts, something Givens does not do. But with Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Patten and rookie Bethel Johnson locks to make the roster, Givens or Ward could be out. Both have look solid in camp and Ward made a fine diving grab over the middle for a 25-yard gain.

OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: One battle that could heat up is the one for the starting wideout job opposite Troy Brown. Deion Branch is already off to a strong start and looks improved over his rookie year. He could steal away David Patten's job as the starter in two receiver sets. The Patriots use a bunch of multi-receiver formations anyway, but don't be surprised to see Branch emerge.

Cornerback Leonard Myers may have to watch his back as well. After spending much of last season on the physically unable to perform list and then returning to play in the final few games, he watched the Patriots draft two cornerbacks, and both are taking snaps in front of him on the depth chart. With Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel and veteran Tyrone Poole all expected to hold roster spots behind Ty Law and Otis Smith, Myers could be in some trouble. He is obviously feeling the heat because he has stepped up his play. He made a beautiful leaping pass deflection on a deep ball intended for speedster Bethel Johnson in one of the best plays of camp.

Incumbent punter Ken Walter is facing an open competition from Dan Pope for his job. Walter did not punt well last year, prompting the Patriots to bring in some competition for this season. Walter has definitely had the edge over Pope in camp's early going.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: S Rodney Harrison. The two-time Pro Bowler had a strong start to camp and already looks better than last year's tandem of Tebucky Jones and Victor Green, who played beside Lawyer Milloy. Harrison looks like he has grasped the system well and is playing with the confidence he may have lacked last year when he battled a severe groin injury in San Diego. He has banged the receivers around in his typical fashion, as Troy Brown will attest. His presence at the back of the secondary and in run support has been noticeable, but Belichick is withholding praise until he actually plays in games. "Let's wait until Rodney plays in our system," he said. "I think it's tough to compare a player in one system with a player in another system. But he [and Lawyer Milloy] have good resumes. There's no doubt about that." While Harrison lacks the speed Jones' provided, he should provide more consistency than his predecessor.

ROOKIE REPORT: First round pick Ty Warren is working with the third unit at left end, but looks competitive and should climb the depth chart. He looked solid in one-on-one pass rushing drills and will likely pass Rick Lyle on the depth chart before camp ends.

--Cornerback Eugene Wilson is off to a strong start working with the first unit at cornerback and broke up a well-thrown deep ball to Bethel Johnson for one of his highlights.

--Speaking of Johnson, the speedy wideout came in facing questions about his hands, but has caught everything thrown his way and seems to be more polished than originally thought. He is fitting in and could carve out a prominent role in the offense. ...

Defensive tackle Dan Klecko has used his quickness on the line to show up in practice and will get some early opportunities in the preseason to show he can rush the quarterback from the interior.

--Cornerback Asante Samuel may be the surprise of camp so far. He is working opposite Wilson with the first unit and has shown a very physical style while holding his own against the Patriots veteran receivers.

--Center Dan Koppen worked with the first group on Day one while Damien Woody was on the sideline, but quickly slid down upon Woody's return.

--Tight end Spencer Nead struggled catching the ball during June's mini-camp, but has looked better recently. He's a longshot to make the club.

--Quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has taken limited reps as the fourth quarterback as the team gives Rohan Davey every chance to climb past backup Damon Huard on the depth chart.

--Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain is out with an undisclosed injury.

--Nose tackle Ethan Kelley is fourth on the depth chart at nose tackle behind Jarvis Green, Ken Kocher and Dan Klecko, but don't be surprised if he and Klecko move past Kocher before long.

INJURY REPORT: In no huge surprise, the opening week of Patriots training camp was shrouded with secrecy regarding the status of several players who opened practice on the sidelines. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has always been tight-lipped about injures, but he generally announced to media members why a player was out of practice during camp even if he did so in very unspecific terms.

That changed last week as 17 players opened practice on the sidelines, but only seven were announced as injured and most of those were either players who were recovering from previously known surgeries, like guard Joe Andruzzi (knee) and tackle Kenyatta Jones (knee) or players who were obviously hurt like undrafted free agent safety Scott Farley, who stood on the sideline with crutches.

It also was announced that guard Stephen Neal underwent another shoulder surgery and will be out several weeks along with offensive lineman Gene Mruczowski (leg). Other players listed with ailments included wideouts Chas Gessner (leg) and Scott McCready (arm).

But notable absences included cornerbacks Ty Law and Otis Smith, fullback Fred McCrary, running backs Antwoine Womack, Antowain Smith, Mike Cloud and Patrick Pass, linebackers Willie McGinest and Tully Banta-Cain, and center Damien Woody.

Woody, Cloud, Pass and Antowain Smith all returned to practice on Day Two, which left most to assume that they failed to pass Belichick's grueling conditioning test on the first day, but passed the re-test, which would indicate they weren't truly out of shape.

McCrary (hamstring), Law, Smith, Womack, McGinest and Banta-Cain are believed to have injuries as well, but the club has confirmed none. Law had a leg injury that limited him during the June mini-camp and Otis Smith may still be recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Womack suffered an unknown injury during pre-training camp workouts.

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