By: Bob George/BosSports.net
July 29, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH -- Troy Brown was always a true professional, and that includes the time he spent as a defensive back in 2004.

David Patten once caught, threw for and ran for a touchdown in the same game, and he's now back for his second tour of Patriotic duty.

Deion Branch was once a Super Bowl MVP as a Patriot. The Steelers know that he can run with the ball also.

David Givens might be to the Patriots what Fred Lynn was to the Red Sox in the 1970s: A great player who never should have left New England, and when he did, his career went south.

Randy Moss did set the NFL record for touchdown catches in a season as a member of the Patriots.

But Tom Brady will probably tell you, if you injected him with truth serum, that his favorite receiver of his entire career is Wes Welker.


New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has made an amazing recovery from his knee injury. (PHOTO: Icon/SMI)
Dustin Pedroia wishes he was this lucky in getting over an injury. The Red Sox second baseman didn't suffer such a horrific injury as Welker did in the 2009 regular season finale at Houston. But Welker, like Pedroia, had a dogged determination to get back on the field as soon as possible. Welker, who suffered ACL and MCL injuries while running a pass route in the Houston finale, had such a successful rehab that doctors cleared him to participate in the 2010 Patriot training camp.

If the Red Sox happen to overtake the Yankees in the AL East despite all the injuries they have suffered this season, it will be a similar miracle to Welker's return.

Welker's being able to participate in training camp highlights the opening of the 2010 season at Gillette Stadium's practice fields. Welker was still placed on the active PUP list, which was possible up until the official beginning of camp. He can come off the list at any time, with fans hopeful that he's ready to suit up when the team kicks off the season against the Cincinnati Bengals on September 12th in Foxboro.

The Patriots, who were bounced in the Wild Card round of the playoffs at home back in January by Baltimore, face more questions than answers as they open the 2010 camp. Welker answers a lot of them, and provides a great inspirational beginning for everyone as they begin work to try and return to the pinnacle of the NFL. But even with Welker back in the fold, the Patriots are turning the team over to a lot of new faces who literally have to redefine the Bill Belichick era in Foxborough.

Quarterback Tom Brady has perhaps the second most questions of any player that need answered. Is he healthy? How will he respond to all these new receivers? How will he adapt to the seemingly increased importance in the tight end position? Is he happy? How's his contract situation?

As for the latter, Brady's contract situation is turning into the most poorly reported story in New England sports since the Enos Slaughter Mad Dash in the 1946 World Series. You have literally every local reporter worried sick over Brady's unwillingness to come right out and say that he is happy here and wants to retire a Patriot. Then you have former Denver scribe Adam Schefter, who seems to be today's version of the late Will McDonough, saying that progress is being made on Brady's new deal. Much was made of the fact that Brady did report to training camp, as many reporters and observers felt he would hold out until he had a new deal.

The same isn't the case for guard Logan Mankins. The All-Pro guard wants to be the highest paid at his position in the league, and claims that the Patriots promised him such a contract. What the Patriots offered him was below the standard set by New Orleans' Jahri Evans, and Mankins has come out and told anyone who will listen that the Patriots in general and Bob Kraft in particular lied to him. Mankins, from farm country in Catheys Valley, California in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, operates on "a man's word is his bond" credo, but this old school way of thinking rings hollow in today's NFL, especially in these days of impending labor unrest.

How the Patriots handle Mankins bears watching. One might think other players might be watching to see how the Patriots deal with this, thinking if they will get the same disingenuous treatment when it's their turn to be shown the money. But Mankins may be the victim of something deeper, that being the memory by Belichick of Mankins in Super Bowl XLII. One of the reasons the Giants were able to bludgeon the Patriots was the fact that Justin Tuck absolutely killed Mankins in that game, and Belichick may not have forgotten that game when thinking about Mankins getting the contract of his dreams.

One thing the Patriots won't have to worry about is that all the draft picks are now signed and in the fold, something that was a hallmark of previous seasons. Top draft pick Devin McCourty was the last one to be signed, and now all rookies can concentrate on learning the playbooks and trying to make their marks on the team. It's still not clear whether McCourty will be vying for a starting cornerback spot or merely special teams reinforcement. But a lot of attention will be focused on the two tight end draftees, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Linebacker Brandon Spikes also comes highly touted, and it could be that the top four draftees (including linebacker Jermaine Cunningham) have legitimate shots at becoming starters in 2010.

Belichick also has something to show all the fans and experts by trying to succeed without any coordinators. Some recent reports have stated that former Patriot reserve safety Corwin Brown has the inside track at becoming defensive coordinator. Brown, a former 4th round draft pick out of Michigan (and a teammate of Ty Law at Ann Arbor), was a special teams standout during the Patriots' run at Super Bowl XXXI. But currently Belichick has no official stated coordinators.

That said, Belichick seems to like challenges and loves to teach. Belichick knows that he has to reinvent the Patriots. One way to bring this about was the taking down of the pictures of the great Patriots of the 2000s from the walls of Gillette Stadium. It is the ultimate statement on not resting on laurels. Belichick wants his team to move on and to not think of themselves as an extension of the dynasty of last decade.

Lots of teaching will take place on the practice fields at Gillette. The Patriots enter a season where the hated Jets are the favorites to win the division. Changes need to take place, and those changes are now finally under way.

Whatever happens, at least Welker is back. That dance at a recent Celtics game should have cinched it for you. The Patriots hope that more dancing is in order in early February.


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