2006 season recap
Coming up short
With the majority of their veteran leadership in tact, the Patriots and their fans expected nothing short of their fourth Super Bowl title in 2006. Though they ultimately came up short, losing in the AFC Championship Game to eventual Super Bowl winner Indianapolis, quarterback Tom Brady did manage to lead the Patriots to a 12-4 record and the AFC East title without the help of any star receivers.
Key camp questions
Will Asante Samuel's contract situation become a distraction?
The Patriots have always been able to shuffle bodies around in the secondary and remain effective, but losing Samuel to a holdout will present a new set of challenges. If he doesn't hold out and instead signs the franchise tender, the Patriots will need to hope he can set aside his disappointment at not receiving a long-term contract and play up to the standard he set last season.
How will Randy Moss fit in with the team and the offense?
Will he return to form as a deep threat, and be willing to come over the middle on crossing routes, or will he be used more as a decoy and in the red zone? Moss knows this is a great opportunity, and has been saying all the right things, but how will he respond to sharing the wealth? No Patriots receiver has caught more than 100 balls since Troy Brown caught 101 in 2001.
Can Laurence Maroney become the primary running back?
With the departure of Corey Dillon, all eyes are on Maroney to prove he can be the every-down back. They still have Kevin Faulk as a reliable third-down option and acquired Sammy Morris from Miami for depth.
Key position battle
Moss, Donte' Stallworth, Wes Welker, Kelley Washington, Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell and Troy Brown (returning from offseason knee surgery) are all capable, experienced starters. Add in second-year man Chad Jackson and there simply is not enough room for all of them on one roster. Who will go, and whose role will change the most? As certain receivers separate themselves from the pack, others will be relegated to smaller roles they aren't as accustomed to. How well will they respond and jell with each other? More importantly, how will coach Bill Belichick use them all?
The first-round safety out of Miami came with a bit of baggage, but he says that is all past him now. The Patriots are old and banged up at the safety spot -- Rodney Harrison has played only 13 games over the last two seasons, and Eugene Wilson missed most of last season on injured reserve. Meriweather should have the opportunity to contribute right away, especially if one of them goes down or if Wilson has to move to cornerback to replace Samuel.
Player on the spot
Maroney struggled at the end of last season and in the playoffs (87 yards on 31 carries in the postseason), but that was due at least in part to shoulder and rib injuries. After minor shoulder surgery in the off-season, the coaching staff will be careful with him during camp. The question is, with Corey Dillon gone, can Maroney hold up under a full load for 16-plus games?