New England Patriots' training camp officially came to a close following Saturday's practice, but make no mistake, the action is just heating up. There were a plethora of storylines from this year's camp, and here are the stories from the Pats' practice facilities at GIllette Stadium that stole our attention over the past few weeks.
Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis Statuses Unknown
It's never good when the status of two of your team's top defenders is unknown with only weeks left prior to the start of the regular season. Unfortunately, that's the case for Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis, the two top names brought in this offseason to help sure up the Pats' defensive line.
Haynesworth returned to the practice field for the first time since early August on Saturday, but did not take part in drills, instead standing on the sidelines and observing. Ellis, on the other hand, returned to practice on Saturday and took part in walk-throughs.
The status for both is unknown heading into the all-important third preseason game against the Detroit Lions next Saturday in Michigan. It's entirely possible that both could be holding out of camp and the preseason to stay healthy, but at this point, it's impossible to know (unless Bill Belichick tells us, which he just won't do).
For now, we can only wait.
Chad Ochocinco Adjusting, Making Progress With Offense
Aside from Haynesworth, the Pats' other biggest offseason acquisition was veteran wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. It had been no secret that Ochocinco and Belichick had a mutual admiration for one another, and in many ways, it was only a matter of time until Ocho joined the Pats.
Ochocinco struggled early on in practices, dropping a few passes to the displeasure of himself and probably the coaches and fans. But Ocho continued to make progress, picking up the offense a little more with each passing day. In his preseason debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, he only had two catches, but one was a touchdown pass from Tom Brady.
As far as Ocho's famous personality, it hasn't been missing (even though he said he's just here to play football). He hasn't even been in New England for one month, but has already made his presence known. From trips to Boston publicized on Twitter to saying he was going to live with a Pats fan, Ocho has been entertaining to say the least.
It will be interesting to see how Ochocinco performs as he gets more playing time in the final two preseason games and the opening games of the season. But, just like with Haynesworth and Ellis, it's unknown what role or how successful he will be in New England.
Quarterback Depth Not An Issue For Patriots
Tom Brady is arguable the best quarterback in the game at the moment, and one of the greatest of all time. But, it doesn't hurt to have a little insurance behind him, does it? Brian Hoyer and rookie Ryan Mallett have provided more than a little insurance, as both have been very polished in their preseason appearances so far.
Hoyer will serve as Brady's top backup, with Mallett still learning. But make no mistake, both have proven that, if necessary, the can lead the team down the field and can score points.
Hopefully, neither will have to for an extended period of time this season. Brady looks like he's good to go coming off of foot surgery in the offseason, but he is getting older, and injuries are more probable. If Brady did go down for a long period of time, the Patriots wouldn't be in terrible shape, and could still be competitive with Hoyer and Mallett.
Patriots' Defense Will Play 4-3...Or 3-4
With the additions of Haynesworth and Ellis, as well as Andre Carter - Haynesowrth's former teammate with the Redskins, it's easy to see why most have thought that the Patriots will play in a 4-3 base defense this year. For the most part, those suspicions were confirmed in the Pats' first two preseason games. But if Haynesworth and Ellis aren't able to go, then who knows?
We do know one thing though - whether the Pats play in a 3-4 or a 4-3, or any variation, they will play with hunger and determination. In their beatdown of the Bucs on Thursday, the Pats' defenders looked ferocious, making the Tampa Bay offensive line look like a bunch of high schoolers.
It seems like Bilichick and company have instilled a sense of determination into the locker room this season, especially on defense. No matter what scheme, the defenders look like they'll be bringing it this season.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis Leads Shaky Running Back Core
There aren't any immediate problems up front on the Patriots' running back core, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis primed for another good season (he had over 1,000 yards on the ground last season) and Danny Woodhead backing him up, but outside of those two, the Pats' aren't very deep.
Stevan Ridley has looked really good in his first two preseason games, and is making a strong case to be third on the depth chart. However, with Kevin Faulk still out and Shane Vereen still working his way back from an early-camp injury, the Pats were forced to look for outside options, such as free agent back Clinton Portis (who was reportedly in bad shape during his workout).
Belichick has traditionally been able to get by by scrapping together a group of backs, and he might have to do so this year to be successful once more.
Plain And Simple, Patriots Are Dedicated To Winning
I'm sure that every team thinks that they're going to have a great season at this point, but with the Patriots, there's an extra spring in their step. That could very well be coming from the inspiration generated from the team dedicating the season to the late wife of owner Robert Kraft, Myra Kraft, who is being a commemorated by a special patch on the Patriots' jerseys that they will wear all season long.
Myra Kraft played a big role in the lives of many Patriots coaches and players, and it appears that they are ready to dominate the league in her honor. If I were an opposing team, I would be very, very afraid.
Closing Thoughts: This Patriots team looks like it's in for something special this season, as everything appear to be lining up for another Super Bowl run. A healthy Tom Brady is always the top factor in the team's success, as will be the health of the defensive lineman and the entire team in general. There's no reason to believe that Belichick and company won't win the AFC East, and after that, there's good reason to believe a Super Bowl run is in store.