As Patriots Training Camp Opens, Questions Remain

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws the ball in a scrimmage at training camp on Friday. (AP)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws the ball in a scrimmage at training camp on Friday. (AP)

Though we're in the midst of the dog days of summer, the boys of fall and winter are back in town.

The full New England Patriots squad reported for its first day of training camp on Thursday in the midst of a suffocating heat wave. The team hopes that it will play into wind, rain and snow in the playoffs that run into February.

As training camp opens, many questions remain for a team with a recent history of dominance but that many fans fear has slipped into the NFL's second tier. Here are five questions currently lodged in the minds of Patriots fans that will certainly be answered by the time football season has played through the heat of August, the chill of October, the freeze of January and into the air-conditioning at Dallas' Cowboys Stadium for Super Bowl XLV.

Will Tom Brady's contract situation become a distraction to the team?

The quarterback's current contract is set to run out at the end of this season and he has been working with ownership on a new deal. Both sides have said they're looking forward to Brady signing a new deal that would keep him in Foxboro for years. However, the league's collective bargaining agreement is also set to expire at the end of this season and the uncertain financial situation has many NFL owners scared to offer contracts. The bottom line is that the team needs Brady at top form to even think about playoffs, so getting on the same page as the star quarterback has to be a priority.

Who will scare opposing quarterbacks?

Many NFL teams rely on the passing game for most of their offense, which means that defenses have to rush the quarterback well to be successful. At this point, it's unclear if the Patriots have the tools to put together even a capable, let alone dominant, pass rush.

Of the seven positions crucial to mounting an effective pass rush, only three are certainly filled — by defensive linemen Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork and inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. That means the Patriots still need to lock down a defensive lineman and three linebackers. The team will look to rookie linebackers Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes to step up and potentially steal starring jobs from veterans.

The Jets have the buzz and the Dolphins have the dreams. Do the Patriots have the answers?

When Brady throws, who will catch?

When wide receiver Wes Welker went down with an injury in the last regular season game last year, most fans knew it could spell an early exit from the playoffs for the Pats. Many worry Welker's injury could derail this season's campaign as well. Though Welker is, by all accounts, recovering ahead of schedule, it's impossible to know if his will return to its pre-injury effectiveness.

Whether it's Welker, newly acquired veteran Torry Holt, second-year man Julian Edelman, or impressive rookie Taylor Price, whoever lines up opposite future hall of famer Randy Moss will be an important part of the offense.

Can head coach Bill Belichick continue to run every aspect of the team?

Yes, he's won three Super Bowls and four conference titles. Yes, he's on a one-way ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But can Belichick continue to shoulder all of the weight of New England football fans? The coach is by no means working alone, long-time assistants Dante Scarnecchia and Pepper Johnson can vouch for that, but Belichick has no offensive or defensive coordinators. Heck, he's under so much pressure his sweatshirt sleeves have begun to fray.

Whether you think Belichick is a genius or too arrogant for the good of the team, working without coordinators is almost impossible for a coach in today's NFL. Almost.

Will improving division rivals prove too tough a competition?

The Patriots finished at the top of the AFC East in seven of the last nine years, but as both New York and Miami improve, the team's hegemony is sure to be challenged. Under bombastic coach Rex Ryan, the New York Jets believe that they can win the Super Bowl this year and will be disappointed if they don’t finish with at least a division championship crown. With a stable front office led by executive Bill Parcells and coach Tony Sparano, the Miami Dolphins are slowly building a team around quarterback Chad Henne.

The Jets have the buzz and the Dolphins have the dreams. Do the Patriots have the answers?

This program aired on August 1, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Jeremy Bernfeld Producer
Jeremy Bernfeld was formerly a producer for WBUR.



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