Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I'm certain of: The New England Patriots will have a younger, more athletic defense in training camp. The Patriots were 31st last year in total defense. It’s questionable how much this group improved, but the Patriots certainly will be faster. Additions in the draft such as first-rounders Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower help.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick needs to find the right balance for his defense right now. This is a team that did not cover well and had issues at times rushing the passer. The combination made it rough for the Patriots to keep opponents from racking up yards. They did several things in minicamp to mix it up defensively and find the right combination. That will continue in training camp.
One thing that might happen: New England could see major changes at both guard positions. The training camp status of Patriots Pro Bowlers Brian Waters and Logan Mankins are both up in the air. Waters is contemplating retirement, while Makins is recovering from ACL surgery.
Waters’ absence has been a mystery. He has not participated in any offseason workouts, but also has not officially made a decision on his playing career. Mankins was put on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
One thing we won't see: I’m sure we will not see any distractions. That simply is not the “Patriot Way.” New England is a veteran team with great leadership. It is the consummate football culture that has kept this team focused on winning, and away from outside distractions.
The reigning AFC champs have most of their roster spots filled. So there won’t be many position battles drawing attention. The one potential controversy could be Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker. He expected a long-term extension this offseason but got the one-year franchise tag for $9.5 million. Welker certainly will be asked about his feelings on this. But an educated guess is Welker will say he is happy to be a Patriot for at least one more year and he’s ready to concentrate on football.