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Talent show at Patriots camp?

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / July 29, 2009

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When looking at the Patriots’ training camp roster, what do you see?

From No. 1 (punter Tom Malone) to No. 99 (defensive lineman Mike Wright), many analysts believe the Patriots have assembled one of the NFL’s most talented clubs.

Training camp begins tomorrow with the first official practice at 9:30 a.m., and upon closer inspection, it’s a roster that . . .

Includes just five running backs. That’s the lowest total in the NFL, with the league average just north of seven per club. The stable includes Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. One reason for the low total is the lack of a pure fullback. Heath Evans signed with the Saints in free agency. Look for the Patriots to use a tight end in a lead-blocking role when they go to a standard type of two-back set.

Is the oldest in the NFL. Although the Patriots are younger than they were at this point last season, their average age of 27.2 - calculated based on actual birthdates - makes them the oldest club in the league.

Has a whopping 16 offensive linemen. Before releasing rookie free agent Jermail Porter yesterday, the Patriots led the NFL with 17 linemen on the roster. All five starters return - left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Koppen, right guard Stephen Neal, and right tackle Nick Kaczur.

Features 30 players playing for the team for the first time. A mix of veterans and rookies is on the list - from receiver Joey Galloway (15th year), to Taylor (12th year), to tight end Chris Baker (eighth year), to a 12-member draft class.

Has the same distribution of defensive personnel as last year at this time. The Patriots will enter camp with 11 defensive linemen, 13 linebackers, and 13 defensive backs, the same as the start of camp in 2008 when accounting for Tank Williams as a linebacker.

Has a different distribution of offensive personnel than last year. In 2008, the Patriots entered camp with 15 offensive linemen, four quarterbacks, nine receivers, seven running backs, and five tight ends. This year, it’s 16 offensive linemen, four quarterbacks, 10 receivers, five running backs, and five tight ends.

Has three of the NFL’s four halfbacks who are 32 or older. There are only four halfbacks in the NFL who are 32 or older, and three call New England home - Taylor (33), Morris (32), and Faulk (33).

Has fewer veteran free agents than last year. There were 26 veteran free agents on New England’s 2008 training camp roster. There are 20 this year.

More draft picks than last year. A total of 30 players drafted by the team were on the roster at the start of camp last year. This year, it’s 38.

Includes two punters and two snappers. No other team in the NFL has devoted double roster spots to those positions, as veteran punter Chris Hanson is set to be challenged by first-year player Malone, and veteran snapper Nathan Hodel is vying against sixth-round draft choice Jake Ingram.

Has 13 players from California, the most of any state. From quarterback Tom Brady (San Mateo) and linebacker Tedy Bruschi (Roseville), to rookies Patrick Chung (Rancho Cucamonga) and Julian Edelman (Redwood City).

Stocked with experience. Players on the roster have appeared in 3,957 career games, with 2,113 played in New England.

When Porter, a wrestler from Kent State who did not played football in college, was released, defensive back Herana-Daze Jones, a veteran of three NFL seasons, was signed in his place.

Jones was the Bengals’ leading special teams tackler in 2006 and 2007 and played two games last year for the Broncos, so first-year Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien has some familiarity with him.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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