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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One week from the start of New England's 2011 campaign, the season seemed to be coming into focus in the Patriots' locker room Monday -- and not just because Tom Brady could actually see Wes Welker again.
The gaudy blue temporary lockers that have divided the room while housing rookies and roster hopefuls since late July were jettisoned this weekend after the Patriots made their final batch of cuts to get to the 53-man limit.
For players, it's the clearest indicator that the regular season is around the corner, and there was no doubt the Patriots had turned the page from the preseason.
|Vince Wilfork says opening the season at Miami will be a real test for the Patriots.|
"It's been a tough camp and now it's time to move forward to the Dolphins," veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "We have our plate full. I know one thing, they'll be ready to go Monday night. It's a test for us, going on the road, a division game. Hopefully we can match their intensity. That's where we're at; we're getting started. We have to put everything into this week."
Of course, before the team's attention could be placed solely on the Dolphins, there was a bit of housekeeping to attend to. The Patriots announced the makeup of their eight-man practice squad: linebacker Markell Carter; running back Eric Kettani; offensive linemen Matt Kopa, Nick McDonald and Thomas Welch; defensive end Aaron Lavarias; wide receiver Kerry Taylor; and safety Ross Ventrone.
Fifteen players, including many of those new faces, received -- or swapped -- their jersey numbers with returning veterans Kyle Arrington (24), Sergio Brown (31), Shane Vereen (34) and Gerard Warren (98) all snapping up vacated digits.
The most noteworthy number news related to Brian Waters, the veteran guard who landed Tedy Bruschi's No. 54 after signing with New England Sunday. Waters wore that number for 11 seasons in Kansas City, but he's the first player to don it for the Patriots since Bruschi's retirement.
You get the feeling Bruschi would be OK with his jersey landing with Waters, who stressed that he had great appreciation for the jersey's history after playing against Bruschi and spending time with him at the Pro Bowl.
But Waters didn't spend much time talking about the past. He gushed about the opportunity to play in New England and said his focus is on working to be in the starting lineup against the Dolphins as he preps to switch from his familiar left guard spot to the right side of the line.
"That's what I'm preparing for," Waters said of being ready to start Week 1. "I think that's what everybody here is preparing for. I don't know any other way than to prepare for it. If it happens, that's the coach's decision, but that's definitely what I'm preparing for."
Waters' arrival, coupled with the return to practice of interior linemen Dan Connolly (right ankle) and Ryan Wendell (calf), eased one area of concern for the Patriots. Having starting right cornerback Leigh Bodden back on the practice field eased another.
Sidelined since the second preseason game with an undisclosed injury, the return of Bodden adds much-needed depth and experience to a young secondary. The defensive backfield has been in the spotlight since the Patriots cut veteran safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders.
In keeping with the "turning the page" theme, Belichick hinted that Meriweather simply didn't fit into New England's plans moving forward.
"Each year is a new year," Belichick said when asked to evaluate Meriweather's time in New England. "I just don't think you can pick teams, pick your players, based on what's happened in the past. You have to pick them based on what you think is going to happen this year. That's relative to the competition, the makeup of your team, and the player's performance. All those are obviously a part of it."
But all of that's in the rearview mirror now for New England. It'll be all Dolphins, all the time when the players return to practice Wednesday. Belichick said as much in his opening statement Monday, giving a quick recap of a busy weekend, then changing topics to the opener.
"Now we're onto Miami," he said. "Of course, opening up down there [will be] a big challenge for us there. Division games are always tough -- division games on the road. And it's a new season, a lot of unknowns. We'll have to prepare for all the things that they've shown and that we know they can do, and we know we won't get all of them, but whatever we get will be their best stuff. They've got a good football team. They're well coached, have got a lot of explosive players, so that's what lies ahead."
Logan Mankins echoed his coach's sentiments.
"The biggest game of the year coming up," Mankins said, asserting the New England philosophy that each upcoming game is the most important. "A division game, on the road, 'Monday Night Football' -- there's a lot to get ready for."
The Patriots aren't looking back.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.