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Here’s the schedule for the training camp previews:
Wednesday: Special Teams and Coaching
Key Departures: None
Key Arrivals: Matthew Slater, Terrence Wheatley
The Patriots are loaded at special teams, so first we’ll look at the crowded areas which are punt and kick returns. The Pats have a plethora of options to return kicks this season, with Ellis Hobbs, Chad Jackson and rookie Matthew Slater headlining the kick return corps. Hobbs has had the most success of the group and has breakout speed. Bill Belichick loves to mix up his return units however so there is no Dante Hall/Devin Hester player who will demand the ball each time. I’d like to see Hobbs keep up the good work in this role, but scouts say Slater is a special teams coach’s dream. Fellow rookie Terrence Wheatley is said to have blazing speed and an eye for the big return.
For punts the job will come down to Hobbs, Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk. Welker and Faulk took a majority of the returns in 2007 and made some important plays. Especially with Welker, he isn’t a guy who is going to take two or three kicks back for TDs every year, but he gets the 10 or 15 or 20 yards in situations where most other returners would get none. A very deep position for the Pats which can help them immensely with field position.
Stephen Gostkowski is the place kicker again and though he booted a record number of PATs last year, most people think the jury is still out on his abilities as a place kicker. He hasn’t had to make the big kicks a certain No. 4 used to make frequently in Foxborough, but until he misses a good amount of kicks it’s his job to lose. Kickoff wise, he’s one of the best in the business in terms of touchbacks. The punting job – for the moment – belongs to veteran Chris Hansen. Though he might be the most unnecessary player in the NFL for obvious reasons.
Over the past decade the Patriots have possessed some of the best special teams units in the NFL. Gostkowski hasn’t done anything to shake the confidence of the coaching staff but has yet made a real difference making kick. The return corps is deep and I would hope Slater will step up and perform as when he was drafted most scouts and ‘experts’ said he’s only valuable on the special teams unit.
Key Arrivals: Dom Capers
The only real significant mention coaching wise is the addition of former Houston Texans head coach Dom Capers as a special assistant/secondary coach. He’ll be able to mix things up a little and work with defensive coordinator Dean Peas and improve a questionable secondary. While the Texans could not break through during his reign as coach, Capers still showed he could do a lot of good defensively with little personnel. Now with guys like Rodney Harrison, Capers can only do good in his new position.
I see the coaching staff rebounding nicely from the disappointment in the Super Bowl. Belichick is still the best coach in the game and with Josh McDaniels, Dean Peas and Dom Capers helping him out, the Pats look primed for another season of solid coaching. Belichick has been running a very tough camp by most reports as the players have been in full pads for nearly every practice. It’s back to basics time for a team who only lost one game out of 19 just a year ago.