Patriots, Brady looking to bounce back into playoffs in 2009

FOXBOROUGH, Ma. -- Most teams would be proud of an 11-win season, especially if it happened without their No. 1 quarterback. The Patriots, however, aren't one of those teams.

"We didn't make the playoffs and we have work to do," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Saturday.

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The Patriots, who went 11-5 last year after losing Tom Brady seven minutes into the first game of the season, are all business this summer after missng the playoffs in 2008.

Observation deck

» The Patriots have have 22 players in camp that have been in the NFL for one year or less, which has Bill Belichick coaching with extra intensity.

» Keep a close eye on newcomers Fred Taylor (RB), Joey Galloway (WR), Alex Smith (TE), Shawn Springs (CB) and Leigh Bodden (CB), who are all excited to be with the Patriots and will compete for starting jobs.

» Under Belichick, the Patriots have always had versatile linebackers that could rush the passer or drop back. They have also been loaded with veterans. Adalius Thomas is helping with the young linebackers as much as he can, preparing them for the team's complicated defensive schemes. The absence of Mike Vrabel makes the linebackers corps thin; they need Pierre Woods or Shawn Crable to come through or they could be in the market for a guy like the Raiders' Derrick Burgess.

» Galloway insisted that he hasn't lost a step, which makes the receiver group very dangerous. He said he feels he could be 50 yards into a route and know Tom Brady could get the ball to him. Any team that rolls the coverage to Randy Moss and Wes Welker on the opposite side will leave themselves vulnerable to the speed of Galloway. The veteran has been fooling the defensive backs at practice with a gray beard that makes him look like an old coach rather than the speedy receiver he still is.

» Brady knows this offense inside out, which leads me to believe he will control much of the offense from the huddle and line of scrimmage. Belichick said Brady is taking about 65 percent of the reps right now and the offense looks like it hasn't missed a beat. It reminded me of what the Billes looked like in the Jim Kelly era when they were in a three-wide attack.

Biggest surprise

The Patriots have won Super Bowls with undrafted rookies at cornerback. During my camp visit I became sold on the quality and depth of the secondary. Bodden was impressive breaking up deep balls and jamming receivers. Springs did a great job of getting physical with the wideouts. Brandon Meriweather has blossomed into a solid safety. Their depth gives them a good looking nickel and dime defense. Look for rookie Patrick Chung to get on the field as a slot corner in nickel situations. Belichick was not satisfied with either the Patriots' third down and 2-minute defense last season. But he's quietly excited about those units this year.

Rookie report

Defensive tackle Ron Brace looks like a cross between Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. He is a tremendous backup nose tackle to Wilfork. He has also seen reps at the '5' technique defensive end and could see real action outside on first-down defenses. While Brace has a lot to learn, according to Belichick, he is ready, willing and able. He looked very good two gapping the offensive tackle and holding his ground. Brace works hard in practice and will see significant playing time this season should any of the three defensive line starters get injured.

Critical moment

Brady ran out of room to throw after the pocket collapsed around him during Saturday's afternoon sesstion. He squared up his feet, however, and flicked the ball outside like a frozen rope into the hands of a receiver. He didn't have the arm strength to do that a few years ago. Now he turns a risky situation into a completion.

Extra point

Randy Moss, who didn't practice in Saturday's morning session, made a spectacular play in the afternoon session. The Patriots had four quarterbacks throwing to four receivers at a time. Moss ran a corner route, turned back over his right shoulder and realized two quarterbacks thought he was their target and had released a ball right at Moss. The veteran casually caught both balls simultaneously with each hand and turned up to run for a touchdown. Moss looks better than ever and should have a great year.

Prediction

The Patriots are poised to return to the playoff picture as the AFC East champions. With a healthy Brady, depth across the board and a burning desire to make up for last year I think they are odds on favorites to meet their goals.

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