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View from Above: 3 Things: Talk is cheap up front, and in the back

The chatter won't stop completely, but at least the pads will begin to pop.

The kick-off to NFL Training Camp is always an exciting time, universally welcomed by football fans of all shapes, sizes and age.  I mean, what fan doesn't want the season to get going?  It's a clean slate – a renewal of effort, energy and passion – that gives everyone from Buffalo to Oakland an optimistic outlook.  

Forget January 1st as New Years' Day – for true pigskin aficionados, the real New Year always begins with the start of football season and Training Camp somewhere toward the end of July.  Kind of like the seemingly random calendar start to the Chinese New Year, don't you think?

Where should the Patriots' focus for 2015 begin?  It is hard to pinpoint, if only because there are several pressing needs on the roster.  That's a bit unusual for a defending Super Bowl champion perhaps, but also a byproduct of present-day contractual freedoms enjoyed by the players and the result of tough business decisions having to be made by team management.  

Bill Belichick is absolutely right when he says "we're moving onto 2015."

There's really no other way.  Can't do anything about last year's team, or several of the players who are no longer around.  This team will be different from the last team, with a few notable exceptions, of course.  TB12 – sooner or later – still runs the show on offense.  But what about the defense?  Who will be part of the wall up front protecting the quarterback?  

Those are great questions today, to be answered over time on the field.  But we'll be watching three primary areas of concern/need/want as camp unfolds, if New England is to put itself in position for another Super finish:

Defensive Backfield

The DB's are the most-talked-about group of players that no one really knows.  And that's the problem.  There won't be any reproduction of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, but there will be eventual replacement.  The primary concern is the final product, and whether or not the unit will give the Patriots a chance to be a championship-caliber defense again, or merely the on-field subs until the offense can get the ball back.  

The addition of free agent veteran corner Tarell Brown should help, but don't be surprised to see younger guys like Logan Ryan and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler get every opportunity to win full-time jobs.  Right now, there's no "buzz" with this group – no one is expecting much – and that should provide plenty of motivation for Ryan, Butler and the rest to show what they can do.

Offensive Line

Keeping Tom Brady or any quarterback upright is Job One for an offensive line.  The Patriots' line did have its difficulties last season, having to deal with injuries, roster moves and a new coaching philosophy up front.  With Dan Connolly's recent retirement, there is a new job to be won by someone – and there will be plenty of eyeballs on two rookies (Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason) who will both get their shot to be the man.

Whichever player can keep THE man upright best will certainly have his chance to be his own man in the starting lineup.

Defensive Line

Is Malcom Brown the new Vince Wilfork?  It's the question many are asking, but the comparison isn't really fair.

Wilfork's presence will be missed, if not for his physical attributes then certainly for his leadership abilities.  Brown is an heir-apparent in the middle, but there will be several other players vying for time and attention, depending on whether the Patriots line up in a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment.  While Wilfork's best attributes were to take up opposing blockers so that others could make plays behind him, expect to see an emphasis on collapsing the pocket from the middle.

Quickness and athleticism are being emphasized, based on the personnel in place.  Those that disrupt the status quo are those that will be on the field most of the time.  If they're playing to expected capabilities, chatter won't be cheap any longer.

Actions always speak louder than words.

Preseason predicament - how soon we forget? 

The newness of training camp getting started this week has this thought currently on the back-burner.  But you know it's coming.

The preseason is too long.

Starters will largely knock the rust off for a quarter, maybe two, in the opening exhibition game.  And then, they'll play 2-3 more quarters during Week 3.  The rest of the time is left for the roster to sort itself out.  It isn't pretty, and is often quite the bore for even hard-core followers.

Sure, we know teams and their coaches have jobs to do.  But building is boring.  No one ever paid for a premium seat to watch a skyscraper go up.

The NFL has had discussions on the possibility of shortening the pre-season, primarily due to present-day health and safety concerns.  Green Bay Packers' president Mark Murphy recently hit the nail on the head when he told ESPN "one of the things that has kind of been looked at is, do we reduce the number of games overall to three preseason games and 16 regular-season games?  But obviously there's a loss of revenue that comes with that."

Bingo.  Revenue is everything, and it is not likely reducing the number of games will make any ownership group happy.  But it is worth looking into, health and safety concerns aside.  Non-competitive games are never a good thing for a league that thrives on energy and emotion.

Brady-swag is on the rise

It may not come as much of a surprise to you, but Tom Brady's troubles over a little air pressure have caused the sale of his swag to, um, inflate.

The NFL Players' Association recently released the Top 50 Player Sales list for the first quarter of the fiscal year 2016, based on total sales of all officially-licensed merchandise.  TB12 is Number One on the list for the first time, undoubtedly receiving a bump in support from Patriots Nation purchasing his jersey.

Quarterbacks dominated the sales list overall, with Brady, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers at the top – along with Denver's Peyton Manning.  Houston's J.J. Watt was the top non-QB, and joined in the Top 10 list by Seattle's Richard Sherman, NY Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and two rookies who haven't yet played a down – Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.

Brady's appearance at the top of the sales list is the first time he's ever had the honor of being the #1 swag seller.  He knocked off the Seahawks' Wilson on the way to the top, as Wilson had finished 2015 in the overall number one position.

Sometimes, karma gets things right...and history does repeat itself.

*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is beginning his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame.  *

Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster

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