Commentary

Patriots still sorting out offensive line, secondary

The Patriots are heading into the season as Super Bowl losers for the first time in Tom Brady's career. The team is saying all the right things as it tries to put to rest the Super Bowl curse, writes Mike Sando.

Originally Published: June 27, 2008
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

Randy Moss and Tom BradyJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesQuarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss fueled the Patriots to a perfect regular season before stumbling in the Super Bowl. Both must come back strong in 2008 to avoid the Super Bowl curse.

Six of the last seven Super Bowl losers have failed to qualify for the postseason after losing the big game.

The Patriots' loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII was particularly excruciating after a 16-0 regular season and two playoff victories. That's why it was important for New England to dive into its minicamps without wallowing in what could have been.

Fantasy Update
Eric Karabell breaks down the fantasy prospects for the Patriots. Story
The Patriots opened practices with their usual fast tempo. Their leaders said the right things and sounded genuine saying them.

What we learned from minicamp

The Patriots are hungry. Quarterback Tom Brady made that clear in his comments early in the June minicamps.

"You come out here the first day and it's not like this is the 2007 team revisited," Brady said. "There are new players and there's a new element to what we're going to face. We don't pick up where we left off last year. We're starting where everybody else is starting."

Brady set the example and safety Rodney Harrison and other veterans have helped to drive home the point.

080627 Brady on 2008 Patriots

NFL.com Video

Tom Brady talks about improving his team as the Patriots prepare for the 2008 season.

The Patriots boasted full attendance for organized team activities. Even right tackle Nick Kaczur, revealed as a federal informant only days before minicamp, showed up and practiced.

On the field, linebacker Victor Hobson worked at inside linebacker along with Tedy Bruschi and first-round rookie Jerod Mayo. Adalius Thomas worked some on the outside, perhaps indicating a position change. The mix could change again if the Patriots re-sign Junior Seau.

The addition of safety Tank Williams armed defensive coaches with another versatile player. Williams has the size to double as a linebacker in certain situations. He could also provide insurance for Harrison, who has missed 23 games to injury and suspension over the past three seasons. Williams looked the part in practices and made a positive impression.

Offensively, receiver Chad Jackson worked extensively with the starters while Wes Welker rested what appeared to be a minor injury. Jackson worked on the outside opposite Randy Moss, with Jabar Gaffney in the slot. Donte' Stallworth's departure to the Cleveland Browns in free agency means the Patriots could use more production from Jackson, who should continue to get quality reps in training camp.

Still unresolved

The Patriots aren't sure how their offensive line will shake out. Kaczur's situation could remain fluid while the legal system sorts out his alleged role in a scheme involving illegally acquired painkillers.

Kaczur is the incumbent starter at right tackle, but coaches played him at right guard during minicamps. The move allowed Russ Hochstein to get work at right tackle, providing the Patriots with another potential fallback option if Kaczur isn't available.

Depth on the line will improve once starting right guard Stephen Neal and newly acquired veteran right tackle Oliver Ross return from injuries.

On defense, cornerback Fernando Bryant is the favorite to replace Asante Samuel in the starting lineup. Past Patriots teams have leaned on a strong front seven while scheming around personnel issues in the secondary. The challenge could become more difficult this time because Samuel, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, was coming off an outstanding season.

Injury analysis

Unlike other injured players, Welker participated in a walk-through session to end the most recent mandatory minicamp. That's a solid indication that his injury, undisclosed by the team, isn't serious.

Fantasy Snapshot: Benjamin Watson

•  Overall rank: 109
•  Tight end rank: 13
•  Auction Value: $1
•  Patriots depth chart

'08 Projection: 470 receiving yards, 5 TDs
Neal and tight end Benjamin Watson are returning from surgeries. Offensive linemen often have an easier time fighting their way through such things. Skill-position players can lose speed and confidence if their legs aren't just right.

Watson's surgically repaired left ankle isn't the only injury affecting the Patriots' tight ends. Backup David Thomas is returning from a broken foot. Free-agent newcomer Marcus Pollard could earn a spot in the rotation at tight end, but the Patriots won't be the same without a healthy Watson.

Pollard, 36, wore down during his lone season with the Seattle Seahawks. Nagging injuries hurt his play and Pollard struggled during the playoffs, losing a fumble and dropping a touchdown pass during a divisional-round defeat to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

File it away

The ankle injury Brady suffered during the playoffs last season may or may not have affected his performance in Super Bowl XLII.

It did, unquestionably, highlight the team's lack of experienced depth at the position. None of the Patriots' backup quarterbacks has started a regular-season game in the NFL and together, they have combined to attempt just 39 passes, with all but one by Matt Cassel.

The Patriots have a full training camp to sort out their offensive line. Brady's health -- and, by extension, the team's playoff hopes -- could hang in the balance.

Training camp start date: July 25

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.