The Patriots’ first public training camp practice is Thursday, July 29, and with 82 players on the roster, there is plenty to analyze. ESPNBoston.com has picked what it feels are the top eight aspects to monitor. As part of the “Countdown to Camp”, they will be counted down with one each day leading up to the first practice.
No. 6: Developing a consistent option at receiver other than Randy Moss and Wes Welker
Why it’s a top issue: Last year's passing offense relied too heavily on Moss and Welker. The free-agent defection of Jabar Gaffney hurt more than anticipated and the free-agent signing of Joey Galloway -- his projected replacement -- did not pan out. In part because of that, the Patriots' passing game was too predictable at times.
Why it might change: Brandon Tate, a 2009 third-round draft choice, has a clean bill of health. The team also signed veteran Torry Holt (51 receptions in 2009) and drafted Taylor Price in the third round. That trio, along with the emerging Julian Edelman as a slot option (and perhaps more) behind Welker, looks better and deeper than last year's options. A receiving-type tight end such as Aaron Hernandez could help as well.
Historical perspective: Since their record-setting 2007 season, the Patriots have primarily been a three-receiver offense.
Xs and Os thought: The Patriots kept six receivers on the initial 53-man roster last season. That seems like a realistic number to expect again in 2010.
Looking to the future: Moss enters the final year of his contract and previously said he believes this will be his last year in New England.
Fun facts: Welker and Moss became the first Patriots to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2008, and stretched that to three straight 1,000-yard seasons in 2009. ... Welker has totaled more than 100 receptions in each of the last three seasons, joining Marvin Harrison (4), Jerry Rice (3), Herman Moore (3) and Brandon Marshall (3) as the only players to catch 100 or more passes in three consecutive seasons.
No. 8 -- Tight ends & the red zone
No. 7 -- Linebackers & development