Postcards from camp: Patriots
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
Setting the scene
I'm probably not the only one to make note of the fact that New England's Thursday morning workout -- its first of training camp -- was forced into the Patriots indoor practice facility due to the ominous thunderstorms that hit Foxboro's Gillette Stadium. So, yes, the Patriots' 2008 season literally began under a black cloud, which some might say is entirely apt after the lingering specter of the Spygate saga last season. Me? I just thought it a piece of tailor-made symbolism that would fit nicely in our setting the scene blurb.
1. The Cornerback Contest. With Asante Samuel now an Eagle and Randall Gay a Saint, no segment of the Patriots' roster has undergone more transformation this offseason than cornerback. Returning starter Ellis Hobbs will eventually man one side, but for now he's recovering from surgery on both a hernia and a torn labrum in his left shoulder, prompting New England to play it cautious and place him on the physically unable to perform list to start camp.
The Patriots signed three veteran been-around-the-block cornerbacks, Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster and Lewis Sanders, and drafted Terrence Wheatley (second round) and Jonathan Wilhite (fourth) in April. Throw in second-year man Mike Richardson, who missed all but the preseason last year with a thumb injury, and there's your field.
Of that group, the Patriots are highest on Bryant, who has a wealth of NFL starting experience and has quickly separated himself from the pack. When Hobbs is healthy, he and Bryant will comprise the starting tandem. Until then, look for Webster to get most of the first-team work opposite Bryant, with Wheatley covering the slot receiver in a nickelback role. One potential wild card to remember is veteran Ty Law, who the team could consider signing at some point before the regular season.
Whether or not that collection of talent at cornerback offsets the loss of Samuel and Gay probably makes for the question of the year in New England.
2. Kaczur suspension? Patriots sources tell me they don't know whether starting right offensive tackle Nick Kaczur is in line for a league suspension after being arrested in April in New York for illegally being in possession of the prescription painkiller OxyContin. But you can bet they're preparing for the worst-case scenario, which would figure to be a four-game suspension to start the season.
Kaczur was on the Patriots' PUP list to start camp on Thursday, and while his physical limitation is unknown at this point, it would seem that New England is seeking to get either Ryan O'Callaghan or Wesley Britt -- both are third-year veterans -- ready in case they are needed in the lineup in September. O'Callaghan is probably first in that line, although Britt was getting some first-team snaps Thursday morning.
Given his drug arrest, Kaczur's long-term status with the Patriots remains somewhat in doubt. During mini-camp in May, Kaczur was being worked some at right guard, which was not interpreted as a sign that he has a rock-solid hold on the right tackle slot indefinitely.
3. No spot for Brady. Quarterback Tom Brady has always prided himself on winning one of the prized parking spots in the team's player lot, which is awarded annually to the Patriots who have the best attendance records during the offseason workout program. But Brady revealed Thursday that he didn't earn one of the coveted spots this year, indirectly admitting that he was in Foxboro less this year than other offseasons.
That should come as no real surprise if you're predisposed to following Brady's off-field, globe-trotting exploits with his supermodel girlfriend, Giselle Bundchen, and remember that his young son, John, lives in California with his celebrity mom, Bridget Moynihan.
"No, I gave it up,'' Brady said, of the close parking spot. "I didn't compete for it this year. If I would have competed for it, I'm sure I would have won. But there are other things that have come up in my life that I had to make choices on.''