<
>

Camp Countdown: Brady at the helm

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. 4: Tom Brady two years removed from injury

Why it’s a top issue: No position is more important than quarterback. Brady was 371 of 565 for 4,398 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season while battling through rib and finger injuries, which is a solid season by any measure. Still, his decision-making in critical situations wasn't at past Brady-like levels.

Reason for Patriots optimism: Two years removed from a serious knee injury, Brady is expected to have an increased comfort level. He spoke earlier in January about how it was nice to go through an offseason without needing surgery, and he reported to training camp Sunday with the team's rookies.

Historical perspective: Brady and Bill Belichick are 97-30 (.764) as a quarterback/head coach tandem. That is the best winning percentage of any quarterback/coach tandem since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

Xs and Os thought: The Patriots have leaned heavily on the shotgun formation, using it as much as any team in the NFL in recent years in spread formations. One aspect to monitor in training camp and the preseason is whether Brady is spending more time under center as the offense attempts to find an identity that is different than "pass-first".

Roster thought: The Patriots kept two quarterbacks on the roster last season, with only rookie free agent Brian Hoyer behind Brady. Having drafted Zac Robinson in the seventh round, the question now is whether they will alter that approach and keep a third signal-caller on the roster. Robinson's preseason performance will be the decisive factor in that decision-making process.

Fun fact: Over his career, Brady has thrown touchdown passes to 38 different players in the regular season and 14 different players in the playoffs.

Camp Countdown:

No. 8 -- Tight ends & the red zone

No. 7 -- Linebackers & development

No. 6 -- Third option at WR

No. 5 -- Young defensive backs