FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots have never before relied upon so many second-year players during their Super Bowl era, but the success of their 2010 season will have much to do with last year's rookie class.
When training camp opened Thursday, the Patriots still had all 12 of their 2009 draft picks on the roster, not including undrafted quarterback Brian Hoyer. Of that group, at least six of them — safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Darius Butler, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, wide receiver Brandon Tate, linebacker Tyrone McKenzie and wide receiver Julian Edelman — figure to have a significant impact.
Hoyer, long snapper Jake Ingram and defensive lineman Myron Pryor are also expected to make the team, and defensive lineman Ron Brace and offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger might be there as well.
Third-year linebacker Jerod Mayo and fourth-year safety Brandon Meriweather are considered the leaders of the young generation of Patriots, but they don’t hold the power in numbers like the 2009 draftees.
"Everything you can think of, you have to make the transition to your second year to be able to help the team," said Chung, who emerged Thursday as the early candidate to start at safety alongside Meriweather.
Butler has locked down the starting job at left cornerback, and Vollmer has taken over as the team's right tackle. Tate, McKenzie and Edelman will all contribute on their respective side of the ball, plus special teams.
"All the second-year players, everybody is out here working to make an impact," Butler said. "We’re out there working every day."
They've all said their offseason preparations were kicked up a notch because they weren’t worried about the combine and the draft, and they're no longer spinning through the playbook at a nauseating pace. It's all about football for these guys now.
There's been an obvious transition from old to young in New England, most noticeably on defense. While the future looks to be in good hands with this wealth of talent, there's not much of a buffer period. If the Patriots are going to make any noise in the 2010 postseason, the sophomores have to hit their strides all at the same time.
Mayo, the defense's de facto captain, said that’s what training camp is all about.
"We're just trying to learn each other," Mayo said. "We have a lot of young guys on the team, and we're just all trying to learn each other. It's different anytime you're out there with different players."