(Sports Network) -- Rookies have been in camp since last week. Veterans are due to report Thursday.
CAMP OBJECTIVES: Competition will be fierce when the Patriots begin defense of their 2011 AFC title, with a slew of free-agent signings brought in during the offseason fighting to stick on a deep and talented roster. Shoring up a defense that surrendered the second-highest yardage total in the league last year will also be near the top of the priority list, as evidenced by the team spending their first six draft picks on that side of the ball. Two first-round selections -- end/linebacker hybrid Chandler Jones and linebacker Donta Hightower -- could be ticketed for major roles in the rebuild if up to the task, with the former having a opportunity to quickly make his mark as a needed pass-rushing presence if still-unsigned Pro Bowler Andre Carter isn't retained. Versatile lineman Jonathan Fanene and former Raiders edge rusher Trevor Scott are two other newcomers with a chance to become valuable contributors, while ex-Charger Steve Gregory looks to have the inside track at a starting safety spot in a secondary that has also undergone some fine- tuning. There are jobs up for grabs on offense as well, with second-year pros Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen battling veteran addition Joseph Addai and returnee Danny Woodhead for playing time at running back and stalwart Deion Branch trying to fend off challenges from seasoned pickups Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth and remain the third receiver. At quarterback, strong-armed sophomore Ryan Mallett will likely get a long look in the preseason to prove his worth as Tom Brady's future backup with current No. 2 Brian Hoyer a free agent at season's end.
PRESEASON SCHEDULE (All Times Eastern):
Aug. 9 - vs. New Orleans, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 20 - vs. Philadelphia, 8 p.m.
Aug. 24 - at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 29 - at N.Y. Giants, 7:30 p.m.
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