Brady, Burgess Among Hottest Patriots Training Camp Topics

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Brady, Burgess Among Hottest Patriots Training Camp Topics FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Now that the New England Patriots' training camp has officially concluded, let's take a look at the seven most significant topics of conversation over the last three weeks.

7. No news is good news.
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, defensive lineman Richard Seymour and left guard Logan Mankins are all entering the final years of their respective contracts, and none of them decided to make a statement by holding out. Wilfork stayed out of the team's voluntary spring workouts and Seymour held out for a short time in 2005, so there was a reason to be on alert. But they stuck to the company line in training camp.

6. Quarterback controversy.
Everything after starter Tom Brady is up in the air. Entering camp, second-year signal caller Kevin O'Connell was Brady's clear-cut backup, no questions asked. But O'Connell struggled at the start of camp, and head coach Bill Belichick was forced to do some tinkering. He released third-stringer Matt Gutierrez, who was in his third season with the Patriots, and signed former Oakland Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter to add some veteran depth. Walter was the first quarterback off the bench in the Patriots' preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he wasn't impressive enough to permanently shelve O'Connell, who should get some more snaps Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Ideally, the Patriots would like to see O'Connell, a 2008 third-round draft pick, continue his development and reclaim his spot as the second-stringer.

5. Burgess lands.
Reports about the Patriots' interest in Derrick Burgess began swirling around draft time, and they finally pulled the trigger last week to acquire the defensive end/outside linebacker from the Raiders. The Pats were looking to add an edge rusher, and the Raiders were in a bind with Burgess, who was holding out of camp. It was a long time coming, but the Patriots finally sent a pair of draft picks to Oakland in exchange for the two-time Pro Bowler.

4. Getting defensive.
The Patriots' defense has a number of new looks, with the improved secondary — keyed by the additions of cornerbacks Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden and Darius Butler and safety Pat Chung — and different schemes with the front seven. Belichick traditionally prefers to utilize a 3-4 system, but the lack of depth at outside linebacker combined with the overwhelming amount of talent on the defensive line have caused the Pats to use heavy doses of the 4-3. Unless that project becomes an absolute failure — there's no reason to believe it will — expect a change of pace on the defensive side of the ball in 2009.

3. Edelman's emergence.
Rookie Julian Edelman was unquestionably the most improved player in training camp. The former Kent State quarterback had hands like bricks in the spring, and he wasn't 100 percent smooth at the beginning of August, either. But at some point, it all began working for Edelman, never more so than in the preseason opener when he returned a punt for a touchdown, recorded a tackle on special teams and caught five passes for 37 yards. At one point, it appeared Edelman was a candidate for the practice squad. Now, he's a virtual lock to earn a spot on the active roster.

"Obviously, he has done a great job and has been working his tail off really just trying to understand the offense," wide receiver Wes Welker said. "He's done a great job stepping up and playing well for us."

2. Intense practices.
Seymour said the team had much more difficult training camps when they were held at Bryant College before Gillette Stadium was built, but that can be attributed to two things. First, they were on a college campus with lesser facilities. Second, Belichick was still trying to play the role of "bad cop" to take control of the team.

This time around was a much different type of "difficult." The Patriots held 28 practices over 20 days, the majority of them in full pads. They had 12 double sessions, including eight consecutive two-a-days to open camp. And every practice over the last week was held in extremely hot and humid weather conditions. Belichick was clearly trying to get his team's attention, and judging by multiple conversations with the players, his efforts didn't go unnoticed.

1. Brady's return.
You'd hardly know Brady was coming off of a devastating knee injury. He has looked extremely sharp and exceeded expectations against the Eagles, completing 10-of-15 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns, and he was surgical while leading a pair of scoring drives. Brady is moving around pretty fluidly, despite wearing a brace on his left knee, and he'll be true to form when the regular season opens Sept. 14.

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