Undermanned Patriots that ended last year look overstocked this year
By John Ingoldsby
FOXBORO, Mass. - The Patriots passing camp today was supposed to be a showcase for all the newly signed stars, and it was indeed all that and more.
But a funny thing happened on the way to practice field. The old stars showed up too, many of whom were not in uniform when the Patriots full team was last seen walking off the turf shell-shocked at the RCA Dome last January.
The horribly undermanned team from that dark evening in Indianapolis turned up today in Foxboro suddenly seeming overstocked.
There in uniform and looking fit were Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson, and Junior Seau. Too bad Peyton Manning was not looking at them in the second half of the AFC Championship. Even the sight of Josh Miller booming left-footed punts again and Bam Childress returning those kicks served as a reminder that the return of the injured bodes well for this season.
Of course, these stalwarts were a bonus to the new headliners for today's opening act of the 2007 season. Randy Moss of course played the lead role, and shared the stage with Adalius Thomas, Kyle Brady, Wes Welker, Sammy Morris, Kelley Washington, and Kelvin Kight. And it did not appear newcomers Donte Stallworth and Brandon Meriweather were even in the house.
The sight of the returning injured players, the new crew, and the established superstars like Brady, Bruschi, and Seymour, all in the same uniform on the same field at the same time made it perfectly understandable why New England is everybody's pre-season Super Bowl pick.
Sometimes you need to see something with your own eyes to achieve the maximum impact. Today was one of those days. No matter where this scribe looked, it was here a star, there a star, everywhere an All-Pro.
And it showed during the practice. The session was crisp, spirited, and high energy, no small accomplishment in the aftermath of teammate Marquise Hill's death a mere four days ago.
From Kevin Faulk showing a big burst up the middle on one of the first scrimmage plays to Brady hitting Moss with a long bomb on one of the last plays, the Patriots looked in midseason form.
There was a nice mix of old and new at quarterback with Brady and Vinnie Testaverde teaming with Matt Cassel and undrafted free agent Matt Gutierrez taking snaps and running drills such as running left and throwing back against the grain right-handed.
The receiving corps was an equal type of mix, with Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney quite visible and serving notice that they are back and ready to make an impact after last year's postseason performances, which had its share of both highs and lows.
Newcomer Wes Welker from the Dolphins showed the steady hands he is known for, but also demonstrated serious speed and acceleration. Ben Watson flashed his form with a nice catch of a Brady pass, and new tight end Kyle (the other) Brady is simply huge and looking more than ready to take over Daniel Graham's blocking duties, if not his receiving role as well.
Speaking of blocking, the O-line is deeper than a quarry with Dan Koppen (sporting a short haircut of his distinctive red locks), Stephen Neal, and Logan Mankins manning the middle, supported by Russ Hochstein and Billy Yates. They are flanked at tackle by Matt Light, Ryan O'Callaghan, and Nick Kaczur, along with the third Patriots pick from this year's draft, Clint Oldenburg.
On defense, the secondary looked deep, and it was promising to see Rodney Harrison's shoulder looking limber as he played a hard game of catch with Artrell Hawkins and Chad Scott. Scott incidentally made the defensive play of the day when he cut in front of a receiver to make a nice interception during a two-minute drill, part of Coach Bill Belichick's pet practice segment of situational football.
The linebacking corps looked a lot younger all of the sudden, with Bruschi, Roosevelt Colvin, and Mike Vrabel now bolstered by the biggest free agent prize of all in Adalius Thomas.
The defensive line with the troika of number one picks in Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Vince Wilfork were back intact and looking ready to wreak havoc again. Wilfork is, quite simply and even from afar across the field, a GIANT among giants. Add in Kareem Brown to go with Jarvis Green and Mike Wright and the Pats should win most trench warfare battles.
But the biggest battle of all may not be on the field, but off the field beginning Tuesday when the all-hands-on-deck three-day minicamp opens.
If Asante Samuel is not there, the presence of Randy Moss will be downright irrelevant. Now that is something that will have to be seen to be believed.
John Ingoldsby has covered the New England Patriots for various publications the past 13 years. He began his writing about the NFL for newspapers in the 1970s. John is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. You can find him on the Patriots Insider boards under the handle Rudiee.
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