By: Bob George/BosSports.net
July 28, 2005

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FOXBOROUGH -- That Fenway equipment truck has got nothing on this.

This can't come soon enough. This season could finish with the home towners making even more NFL history, and the beginning is finally at hand. It's been an interesting, and at times frustrating, summer with the other world champs 30 miles to the north. Now, the two-time champs are finally ready to reconvene, and in New England, it's literally party time.

There's that ultra-modern camp facility, in the shadow of the finest palace in the NFL. The fans will come in in droves to watch them. The players will knock themselves out in the heat and humidity, while fans like Randy Pierce and Karen Cardoza (who have both become iconic in their own way, and deservedly so) will take it all in. One thing Karen will pay close attention to is her favorite player, Tedy Bruschi, and what he'll do as an observer rather than a participant.

Make no mistake, there will be a lot of "paying close attention" out there. There are a ton of things Bill Belichick will be watching, and there will be a ton of Bill Belichick watching as well. The laundry list of questions begins with the head coach operating without his top lieutenants and goes on from there.

Actually, at the top of the questions list has to be this one: Can the Patriots make history and become the first team in NFL history to win three straight Super Bowls? Everything else follows from this all-important query. Super Bowl XL, which will be in Detroit in February, could be the scene for an unprecedented event in league history. Many Patriot fans are expecting that the team will at least be there, if not expecting a win to go along with it.

Expecting this is why you watch the Patriots and not work for them. Terry Bradshaw, who still has one more Super Bowl win than Tom Brady, told the Patriot gunslinger that "It really isn't this easy, you know that!" Brady knows. Belichick knows. Anyone and everything Patriot knows that.

You the fan perhaps don't. That's why you have already booked your Detroit area hotel and are already loading up your bank account for the exorbitant scalper prices you will pay. And why not? Haven't the Patriots made this winning thing look so darned easy?

2005 has some burning questions for the champs that must be addressed during camp. Here are some of them, and how they will likely play out.

Eric Mangini should foster a smooth transition on the defense to offset the huge loss of Romeo Crennel. But Belichick taking over the offense might be tempting fate by bringing back memories of 2000, when the head coach also ran the defense. Crennel came along in 2001, and the Patriots won the Super Bowl that year. Will the offense go in the tank without Charlie Weis there to run it?

Logan Mankins, the top draft pick from Fresno State (100 miles up the road from Stephen Neal's alma mater), is being penciled in as a starter at guard, effectively replacing free agent Joe Andruzzi. He needs to have a great camp and a good learning curve. Attitude and strength are nice, but as Neal has shown, smarts and technique count also. The Patriots at least have former Super Bowl starter Russ Hochstein to fall back on.

Ben Watson, one of the 2004 first round picks and who spent most of the year on injured reserve, needs to show everyone why he was chosen so high. With Daniel Graham emerging as a superior blocking tight end, Watson needs to emerge as the superior pass catcher. Reports say that when he is right, he has wide receiver speed.

Deion Branch needs to play an entire season injury-free. This typewriter says that if Branch plays in all 16 games, he can plan on a February vacation in Hawaii.

Richard Seymour bears close watching, but not on the field. Will the Patriots extend his deal like they did Brady, effectively kowtowing to his demands that his deal be redone and at the same time validating his mini-camp holdout? Or will they ignore him and risk him becoming a holdout? This guy could change the course of the franchise, but no one knows in which way. Other veteran players will be paying close attention to how Seymour gets treated throughout all this. So will agents who might try and once again force the Patriots to stop making to rookies sign six-year deals.

Cornerbacks will be closely scrutinized. Tyrone Poole will be back, Ty Law likely won't be. So will Randall Gay and Asante Samuel. And Duane Starks and Chad Scott. The big question here will be: Can the Patriots go the entire year without needing Troy Brown to have to play defense?

Then there's Tedy.

Bruschi made the decision to sit out the 2005 season, and no one's complaining. One thing Bruschi might be counted upon is to work with such players as draftee Ryan Claridge, Dan Klecko and Tully Banta-Cain and impart his football smarts on them. If indeed Bruschi's career is over, is coaching in his future? This may be premature, but you cannot discount this as a possibility.

This takes on extra meaning now that Ted Johnson has announced his retirement. Chad Brown and Monty Beisel, new free agent signees, look to become starters on the inside. Will this rebuilt linebacker corps be able to remain the "heart and soul" of the Patriot defense? Good thing linebacker coach Dean Pees didn't leave.

There will be some other smaller questions which will come up during camp. Is David Terrell this year's Corey Dillon? Does Cedric Cobbs have a future with this team? Can Jarvis Green reprise his backup role in 2005 if Seymour won't answer the bell? Who will emerge at the right tackle position?

At least the questions can now be asked. Time to forget about Keith Foulke, Mark Bellhorn and Alan Embree for a while. The Patriots are back, hopefully embarking on the road to history.

Three times is the charm? In Foxborough, you bet.


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