- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Key stat that stands out from the Patriots' first eight training camp practices: Top draft picks Chandler Jones (defensive end), Dont'a Hightower (linebacker) and Tavon Wilson (safety) have been on the field for every session, putting themselves in position to become immediate contributors on D. It's a contrast from 2011, when second-round picks Ras-I Dowling and Shane Vereen signed late and then missed time because of injury.
2. On comparisons between the potential firepower of the 2012 Patriots offense and the team's record-setting 2007 offense, receiver Donte' Stallworth doesn't necessarily see it. "I think it's a different dynamic," he said. "Obviously with Gronk and Aaron [Hernandez] being able to tie up the middle, it's a completely different offense. As far as a comparison, there really is none."
3. Keeping an eye on the Titans, the Patriots' season-opening opponent, they spent a lot of time this offseason looking at free-agent centers. But in the end, they wound up back at square one with their 2011 starter Eugene Amano, and on Saturday, Amano was lost for the season with a torn triceps. That could mean Fernando Velasco (3 career starts), who entered the league as a rookie free agent out of Georgia in 2008, could be lined up across from Vince Wilfork in the opener. Potential big mismatch for the Patriots.
4. Unless an injury thins the ranks, it's hard to see where free-agent defensive end Andre Carter would fit with the Patriots right now. Between Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Trevor Scott, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette and even high-motor rookie free-agent Justin Francis, the Patriots look pretty well-stocked at end. One thing to keep in mind: If Carter comes back, it probably cuts right into Chandler Jones' playing time. While Carter could be a terrific mentor to Jones, his presence might also block Jones' development.
5. The Dolphins held an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday and any guesses on their leading receiver? Yes, it was Chad Johnson, with five receptions for 42 yards. The effort was considered a strong debut, even if Johnson dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone from quarterback David Garrard.
6. It's never too early for some amateur advance scouting, with the Cardinals playing in tonight's preseason Hall of Fame Game against the Saints. The Patriots host the Cardinals in the home opener Sept. 16, and safety James Sanders, offensive lineman Russ Hochstein and Rich Ohrnberger, defensive lineman Landon Cohen and running back Thomas Clayton are players on the current Arizona roster with New England ties. Key question for the Cardinals: Kevin Kolb or John Skelton at quarterback? Kolb gets the start tonight.
7. Random thought: Patriots owner Robert Kraft was smart to reach out to new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and invite him to town and show him the ropes on NFL ownership. Kraft was the first owner to reach out to Haslam and offer his advice. The gesture highlights one of the unique dynamics of NFL ownership -- owners are competitors but at the same time partners. Kraft, one of the league's most influential owners, knows it helps to have allies among the group.
8. Random fact I didn't remember until watching Saturday night's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies: Bill Parcells fed rookie Patriots running back Curtis Martin the football seven straight times to open his first preseason game in 1995 -- handoff after handoff after handoff. As Martin came to the sideline exhausted following the seventh carry, gasping for air, Parcells reminded him he was no longer in college. Nobody pushed players' buttons like Parcells, who knew right then he had something special in Martin.
9. Interesting position battle to watch in Baltimore, where kicker Billy Cundiff is being challenged in camp by rookie Justin Tucker. After Cundiff's devastating miss in the AFC Championship Game, one wondered if he'd be able to rebound. Tucker, who played at Texas, has displayed a powerful leg and has been accurate as well.
10. If Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko continues on his upward arc, he'll be positioned for a potential nice payday when his contract expires following the 2013 season. Top punters are currently averaging between $3-4 million per season, with Brandon Fields' new deal with the Dolphins the latest to reflect the growing market at the position. Shane Lechler (Raiders), Mike Scifres (Chargers) and Andy Lee (49ers) are viewed as three of the league's best punters, and their salaries reflect it, but Mesko is coming on strong.
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