With Patriots training camp starting up tomorrow, the epic struggle between the fearless media corps and Bill Belichick’s evil empire begins anew.
Beyond the usual day-to-day reporting of practices, transactions and that day’s player profile, what can we expect to hear a lot about during this camp?
The Spectre of 16-0.
Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com has already predicted that the Patriots will run the table in 2012. In the regular season. He has them losing the Super Bowl (this time to the Packers) once again.
Prisco, who has been known to take pleasure in tweaking Patriots fans in the past, no doubt enjoyed making this prediction, and is reveling in the attention it is receiving. It has already been a topic of discussion on the local airwaves and in the local papers and will continue to be, at least until the Patriots lose a game.
Joint Practices and the Preseason Game with the Saints.
I’m already cringing at the references to this one. Expect to be overloaded with Spygate/Bountygate comparisons. Expect some “CheaterBowl” references. You can be sure that there will be plenty of talk about how the Patriots got off easy, and the taped Rams walk-through will be referred to as a fact. I’m not looking forward to that week.
The Status of Andre Carter/Loss of Mark Anderson
We’ll hear plenty of speculation about whether the team is going to bring back the defensive lineman who was so productive for them last season before being lost to injury. The conversations will accelerate if it appears that the Patriots are not generating pass rush from the defensive end position. Last year, many dismissed the signings of Carter and Anderson as of little importance. This year, the same people may be moaning over the fact that they are not here.
Laser Focus on Rob Gronkowski
Many sets of binoculars will be focused on the ankle of the Patriots tight end, and his status at every practice will be one of the first things mentioned. Whether he plays in preseason games will also be a subject of debate. After getting the big contract, there will be plenty of speculation about his focus, especially coming off the busy offseason he just completed.
Is Wes Welker Unhappy?
You can be sure that Welker’s contract will be mentioned at least a few times every day. He will be watched, scrutinized for any signs of discontent or unhappiness. The contract will be brought up to him, numerous times. His production will be watched, and any deviation in either direction will have people say that the team should either give him a 5-year $100 million contract, or cut ties with him at the end of the season.
Reduced Media Work Area
As Mike Reiss noted over the weekend, the Patriots are expanding their weight room into the area that formerly served as the media workroom. The media will now work out of the two-story press box, and I can already hear the griping that will result from this. Even if there is no inconvenience whatsoever.
The Curse of the Super Bowl Runner-Up
This may not be as big a topic as it might normally be, given as how the Patriots really re-loaded this offseason, while many teams that make it to the Super Bowl think they’re close enough, and usually bring back the same team the next season. Expectations are sky-high, but any rash of injuries during camp, and this line of talk will be trotted out quickly.
Worst Defense in All of Football
I’ve heard this one plenty already, (though in reality, the Packers slipped behind the Patriots at the end of the season to finish last in the NFL’s total defense numbers.) and early on, you can expect plenty of talk about whether they have made enough improvements to the unit. The losses of Carter and Anderson will be mentioned, and whether the rookies can make any sort of contributions to this group.
Any Other “Issue” That May Pop Up.
In 2007, Randy Moss pulled a hamstring during the first week of camp, and was not seen again. This led to rampant speculation that he might not even make the team. He then went out and had one of the greatest seasons ever by a wide receiver. A veteran stalwart might retire. Brian Waters might not show up until the week before the opener. All sorts of things could happen which will suddenly take the conversation away from the relevant stuff, (you know facts, anecdotes, and quotes) and give the talkers plenty of material for hours of inane debate.