Camp Postcard (cont.)
Posted: Friday July 27, 2007 4:03PM; Updated: Monday July 30, 2007 10:21PM
3. Patriots running back Laurence Maroney was in uniform for the team's first workout of camp, but he did wear a red jersey, meaning he's hands-off in terms of contact and will practice on a somewhat limited basis. Maroney, who will be the team's primary ballcarrier this season in the wake of Corey Dillon's departure, underwent offseason shoulder surgery and his availability for the start of camp has been an open question in recent months. The Patriots are doing the smart thing and going slowly with Maroney, because they can afford to. They're still more than six weeks away from their season-opener at the Jets.
But it's a positive sign that Maroney wasn't placed on the physically unable to perform list at the onset of camp, and that he took part in enough of a workout Friday to break out in a good sweat. "I feel ready,'' he said. "They still hit me with the red jersey on. They might not hit me as much, but I don't think the defense even knows what this red jersey means.''
Oh, yes they do. Especially in the case of red jersey No. 12, the one Tom Brady wears in practice.
4. I couldn't help but wonder on Friday morning whether Pats coach Bill Belichick was pining for that preseason trip to Beijing that New England was once scheduled for -- but I think not. The Patriots were to play Seattle in the wonderfully named "China Bowl'' on Aug. 9, but the NFL surprisingly scrapped the game in early April, amid concerns that preparations for the game were not up to the league's usual extravaganza standards.
Had the China trip gone on as planned, the Patriots would have been in camp already for at least a week, and were to have played the Seahawks at Seattle on Aug. 2, in what would have amounted to Game 1 of a rather unique double-header of sorts. From Foxboro to Seattle, to Beijing, and back. You can bet that would have driven the routine-conscious Belichick right up the wall. Of course in this case, it would have been the Great Wall of China.
5. It was a match made in football heaven: the game's most versatile player, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, signing with the team known for placing a premium on versatility, the Patriots. The mind reels at the possibilities in regards to how New England might use Thomas, who played at least a few snaps at every defensive position on the field with Baltimore in 2005. (Honest).
On Friday morning, one of the first plays I noticed was Thomas dropping back maybe 10 to 12 yards into pass coverage and deflecting a Matt Cassel pass that was intended for third-year reserve tight end Matt Kranchick. It was vintage Thomas, a big, deceptively fast talent who finds ways to show up making plays all over the field. I wouldn't be shocked if Thomas winds up being the Troy Brown of the Patriots defense, meaning he might even tempt the coaches into playing him on the other side of the ball (No. 96 lined up at tight end?).
Did You Know?
Vinny Testaverde, who turns 44 in mid-November, has an agreement with the Patriots to return to the team as the No. 3 quarterback after two-a-day practices have ended in training camp next month. That's likely to be after New England's second preseason game, at home against Tennessee on Aug. 17. Testaverde worked out with the Patriots this offseason, even though he was officially unsigned. This would be the third consecutive year that Testaverde has spent part of a season on an NFL roster, and would mark his 21st season in the league after being drafted first overall by Tampa Bay in 1987 -- two full decades ago.
It just dawned on me. Testaverde has become the NFL's version of Roger Clemens. A veteran arm who keeps prolonging his career by playing partial seasons for a team willing to make somewhat special rules for just him. Who's with me on this one?
Insider Fantasy Tip
I'm expecting Brady and Moss to quickly develop a nice on-field rapport, and that could result in plenty of red-zone catches for Moss, who can still go up and get the ball with the best of them. But I still anticipate that the busiest man in the Patriots offense will wind up being mighty mite receiver Wes Welker, who will line up in the slot the majority of the time. The 5-9, 185-pound Welker used to bedevil the Patriots when they tried to cover him as a Dolphin, and New England is going to invent ways to get him the ball with some open field in front of him.
I saw him take a hand-off on an end-around Friday, and he made major contributions to the Dolphins on both punt and kickoff returns. True, Welker has only one career receiving touchdown, and another one on a kickoff return. But he's going to jack up those numbers considerably this season in New England, and his potential as a weapon for the Patriots is worth taking a mid-round flyer on.
The Patriots have all these receivers, but you know only about half of the 12-man field is going to make the final roster. But which ones? Glad you asked. Here's our breakdown as we see it at the beginning of camp. Keep in mind that injuries will have plenty to say about who stays and who goes between now and the first week of September:
The six we pick to stick are Moss, Welker, Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell and the ageless Brown. It looks as if second-year man Chad Jackson -- a second-round pick in 2006 -- could be a candidate for spending the year on injured reserve after tearing an ACL in the AFC title game loss to the Colts. Jackson is currently on the physically unable to perform list, and with the Patriots receiving depth, he probably won't get the benefit of the doubt on the roster decision if he doesn't put in much of an appearance in the preseason.
Who's fighting the odds? The biggest name would be ex-Bengal Kelley Washington, in addition to Bam Childress, Chris Dunlap, C.J. Jones and Kelvin Kight. If there's a longshot to keep an eye on, it's Kight, a former Florida Gator who saw action in six games (including two playoff games) after being activated from the practice squad in Week 14 last season.
Yes, many thought Caldwell an endangered species after his two glaring drops against the Colts. But he and Brady have experience together that the Pats value, and he was the team's leading receiver in 2006, catching 61 passes for 760 yards and four touchdowns.
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