Top 5 Camp Observations

With the first week (9 days) of camp in the books, it's time to make some key observations. Kisha Tapangan takes a look back to bring us the top 5 from Foxboro including a close look at the rookies.

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Camp Schedule Week 1
1. The Missing Guard
The Logan Mankins contract holdout has been a major issue since the beginning of training camp and with the recent report of Nick Kaczur's possible back injury that could force him to miss a considerable amount of the season, the issue is becoming a great concern.

At the beginning of training camp, the weight of not having Pro Bowler Logan Mankins at the guard position wasn't much of an issue since tackle Kaczur was willing to make the switch to playing left guard. To much dismay, after a day in the position, Kaczur was missing from camp due to injury, a back injury which turned out to be searious.

Now the Patriots have a vacancy that could greatly impact the efficiency of their entire offense. With Kaczur sidelined, free agent Ryan Wendell, Dan Connelly and 2009 fourth round pick Rich Ohrnberger have been rotated at the guard position. The signing of free agent Eric Ghaciuc has also added another level of competition for the vital starting guard position.

2. Welcome Back Welker
The return of Wes Welker injected Patriots Training Camp with a surge of energy and excitement. It was exactly what the team needed to forget their disappointing performance and what came to be as the their final game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens.

Welker's remarkable recovery is what some have called miraculous. The receiver made his debut just a mere four days into training camp and has quickly gotten back into the rigor of season preparation. Executing clean routes, making sharp cuts and dominating the slot position, Welker is getting back to the shape that allowed to have the league-high 123 receptions in 2009.

Welker has even been able to take a couple of punishing hits from teammate Jerod Mayo during a 1-on-1 drill and nonchalantly bounced right back up. Whether Welker will play during Thursday's preseason game against the New Orleans Saints is still undecided. Wednesday and Thursday's joint practices with the Saints should provide Welker with more opportunities to work back into game day shape.

3. Rookie Impressions
The rookie class for the New England Patriots is a talented, versatile and effective. Members of the this class have already made an argument for a spot on the final roster.

Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham are weapons that the Patriots' defense sorely needed. Spikes has sparked the interest of his coach and Cunningham, who has switched from defensive end to outside linebacker, has also been drawing praises from Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff. Both Spikes and Cunningham have a chance at possibly earning a starting role as rookies.

On the offensive front, wide receivers Taylor Price and Buddy Farnham have been successful so far at camp. Price has had some struggles on the field with missed catches, dropped balls and some play confusion. The third round pick has been playing catch up but continues to show improvement at every practice.

Farnham, an undrafted rookie free agent from Brown University, has been getting his fair share of reps even making some tough, crowd-pleasing catches. The former Ivy League Player of the Year has been labeled a long shot to make the final roster, but with continued success at camp, he may land a spot on the practice squad.

Rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, have shown remarkable production on the practice field all week. Both players have varying styles, weaknesses and strengths and the Patriots have honed in on all three. Gronkowski's size and strength has given him the upper hand against defenders whereas Hernandez's speed makes him a perfect end zone target. The tight ends will most likely be utilized more in the upcoming season and will allow for Tom Brady to increase his arsenal of receivers.

Finally, the special teams boasts the addition of top collegiate punter Zoltan Mesko. Throughout camp, Zoltan has shown off his powerful leg with punts that have distance and good hang time. Mesko still struggles with maintaining consistency in distance for all of his punts, but has shown to the ability for efficient ball placement. Mesko will also likely be the main placeholder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

4. Demand for Veterans
The Patriots have a key leader in most of the positions on the team. These individuals have league experience and also have a large group of rookies yearning to learn.

Tom Brady has stepped into camp with a refreshed and motivated demeanor that has added to the recurring theme for the 2010 Patriots Training Camp.

Fresh talent and a fresh start.

Vince Wilfork has been the core of the defense and with the acquisition of veterans Torry Holt, Alge Crumpler and Gerrard Waren, the Patriots have placed a high focus on players with more to offer. Holt has maintained his competitiveness around the rookie receivers, while Crumpler has been the driving force for the revived tight end position.

Training camp has been filled with moments of younger players making mistakes on a play and turning to their more experienced teammates for clarification and better understanding. It must also be noted that the more experienced players have not hesitated in showing their frustration to the younger players on missed assignments or dropped balls.

All of which are necessary in building a solid team foundation.

5. Red Zone Performance
One constant during the first week of camp has been an increased focus on improving the offense's efficiency in the red zone. Tom Brady struggled in 2009 in execution within the red zone, only scoring a touchdown 52.3 percent of the time.

Adding two successful collegiate tight ends and a handful of wide receivers has enabled the Patriots to work towards improving that just over 50 percent success rate. Brady has shown improved ball movement and has comfortably connected with most of the possible receivers. The biggest improvement in this aspect of the Patriots offense is the continued usage of Gronkowski and Hernandez.

Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check in all camp long for regular updates by Kisha from Foxboro

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