Well, here we are in the month of August with training camps in full swing and players sweating to the oldies on campuses and practice fields throughout the country.
The coolers are stocked full of cold water and replenishments for the grueling two-a-days and long-winded sprints that lie ahead.
This is the time that separates the men from the boys on the field. Who is going to be able to endure the major breakdown of the body? Which rookies are going to make it past the practice squad or the cut list?
It is a time for bated anticipation for the season to come.
With two preseason games down for the Patriots, there are many different things that can be looked at as positive things and a couple of things that can be looked at as concern.
· The receiving corps has looked pretty amazing. Wes Welker has been what everyone expected him to be in his playing time so far. A great slot receiver with great speed and a fire burning in him that is evident every time he touches the ball. Kelly Washington has been sort of a surprise in his catching ability and has shown signs of being a quality receiver with good hands. The rest of the corps has all been vying for a starting job and I think the competition has been great so far. It has really caused the "bubble" guys like Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell to put that much more work in their game and really step it up.
· The defensive line was definitely shored up for a long time this last week with Ty Warren signing a new five-year deal. With a young line who is one of the best in the biz, this does nothing more than build confidence and cohesiveness within the front three of Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Warren. This is one of the most important aspects of the Patriots success. Stop the run, then pressure the quarterback is the name of the game.
· The defensive secondary looks like a brand new bunch out there with crafty veteran, Rodney Harrison, leading the team. They look like they are in the middle of the playoffs with the way they are batting balls, defending patterns and laying licks on the wide receivers. This is an area that I thought was going to be a weakness but so far in this young preseason it has been a solid area.
· Adalius Thomas has been another "as advertised" acquisition for the Patriots. This guy has been all over the place playing "Johnny on the spot" and seems to be a great fit to replace the aging Tedy Bruschi when he decides to retire. The linebacking corps is still strong and with the addition of Thomas and the return of Seau, it looks as if it could be a great year for those guys barring any major injuries.
· Injuries. Like most training camp periods there are times for healing and restoration from surgeries and nagging injuries. Richard Seymour, Troy Brown, Lawrence Maroney, Chad Jackson, Benjamin Watson , and Randy Moss have been a few that we haven't even been able to see take some contact and strap on the pads. This might not be a bad thing but it is disappointing from the fans perspective. We want to see the offense gelling and meshing and working together as a cohesive unit and with injuries and bench time it makes that process slow and lethargic.
· The punting game is in question with the departure of Miller a week or so ago. They are relying on some very young legs to perform one of the most important and most underappreciated aspects of the game. Pinning the offense back behind the 20 yard line is an art form and doing it with great hang time to give players like Larry Izzo a chance to get down there to crack some helmets is so very important. So, as expected, this will be a wait and see approach.
· Still with the health of Maroney in question, we have to wait and see what the regular season entails with the running of backup, Sammy Morris. This is an area of concern this year with the departure and retiring of Corey Dillon in the off-season. With Kevin Faulk aging each day, this is an important thing to keep him as the third down back when you need those ever important yards and not as a backup to Morris if Maroney goes down.
· The offensive line was great last year. They had to be one of the best in the game. This early preseason, I have seen Tom Brady take a lot of hits and has been run around like a jailbreak at times in the small amount of time he has been on the field. I am sure that they are going to shore things up and get their heads in the game by the time the regular season comes around. Well, they better or teams will be teeing off on number 12.
· The Asante Samuel situation. I hate to write about this because I am truly sick of hearing about it. It would be great to have him out there with this team building that defensive secondary camaraderie. We will have to wait it out to see if money rules all things and he waits until week ten to come back to be with his warrior teammates.
So this is where I think we are at so far at this point in the preseason. I know it is early and way to soon to tell how they are going to perform during the regular season but for now, it is all we have to go by.
Many will take the preseason as being a false gage as to where the team stands but I tend to disagree. This is a time to get the motors running, gears moving and brush the cobwebs off and see what you have to bring to the table. It is also a great time to see some of the rookies and walk-ons and their talents.
So, with almost every single NFL fan out there right now waiting in anticipation for a great season to come, it is a very exciting time.
The slate is clean. The records are 0-0. The optimism is at an all time high for every fan out there.
So, here is to an injury free and well played season to come. Bring on the New York Jets!
Shane is a lifelong Patriots fan who grew up in Worcester, MA. He showed his Patriots spirit by representing his home team all over the world while in the military. A resident of Bangor, ME remains a diehard fan of the team and regularly makes the 500 mile round trip trek to watch them whenever he can.
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