Ah, late July, summer at its peak. And with the Boston Red Sox swooning again, it’s the perfect time for football.

The New England Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champions, start training camp Thursday in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Yes, we’re still waiting to hear from Roger Goodell on Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension. But the NFL moves on.

And the Patriots, who lost several key players to free agency during the offseason, have a bigger target on their back than usual. Not only are they the defending champs, but the Deflategate controversy is going to follow this team for a long, long time.

But like every other NFL franchise, the Patriots enter training camp with plenty of questions.

Here are five to consider:

1. Who’ll back up Brady?

So, if Tom Brady misses any time because of a suspension, who do you want behind center?

Second-year pro Jimmy Garoppolo?

Veteran Matt Flynn?

Think about it hard, because chances are, one of them is going to see some significant time this season.

Garoppolo, selected in the second round of the 2014 draft, flashed some skills last year while he backed up Brady. He played in six games and completed 19 of 27 passes, threw one touchdown pass and had a quarterback rating of 101.2. Many people expect him to be the heir apparent.

Flynn, a proven backup, provides insurance. He’s in his eighth year but has started just seven NFL games. Interestingly, he made his first career start against the Patriots in 2010 – and did pretty well, completing 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns. He turned a couple big games for the Green Bay Packers – subbing for an injured Aaron Rodgers – into big money with the Seattle Seahawks but never met their expectations and was traded to Oakland in 2013.

But the Raiders released him, as did the Buffalo Bills, before he returned to Green Bay, all in the 2013 season. He was released by the Packers at the end of last season. Flynn has proven he can play well over a short stretch, which Patriots fans hope is all that’s needed.

2. Who’ll play at cornerback?

The Patriots won the Super Bowl when rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted a Russell Wilson pass with 20 seconds left to secure the 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He better be ready to make more plays this year.

The Patriots’ secondary underwent a seismic upheaval in the offseason. The three cornerbacks who started last year’s Super Bowl – Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington – left for other teams. Revis signed with the New York Jets, Browner joined the New Orleans Saints and Arrington went to the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots also released Alfonzo Dennard, a talented but injury-prone reserve.

So the Patriots go from a secondary that could lock down anyone – just ask the Indianapolis Colts and Andrew Luck – to one that’s going to need some help in the form of an improved pass rush. Hey, put pressure on the quarterback so he can’t find open receivers, and it should help.

Logan Ryan, entering his third year with the Patriots, is expected to be a big factor at cornerback. He’s shown flashes but has been inconsistent. New England signed veteran cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain, Derek Cox and, most recently, Tarell Brown. The Patriots also drafted Darryl Roberts, an excellent athlete who impressed scouts on his pro day. And then there’s Butler, whose offseason included parades, appearances and photo ops at every turn.

The Patriots have a strong group of safeties, led by Devin McCourty. But all eyes will be on the cornerbacks, from the first snap of training camp.

3. Who’s going to carry the ball?

If Brady is absent for any period of time, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots try to run the ball more.

They lost Stevan Ridley (New York Jets) and Shane Vereen (New York Giants) to free agency, so the backfield will have a different dynamic.

Yes, LeGarrette Blount is back – he will miss the opening game against Pittsburgh while serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy (marijuana) – but he’s really the only proven commodity. He is a power runner with deceptive speed, especially once he breaks through the line. There are a host of other backs who may contribute, including Jonas Gray, whose career night of 201 rushing yards and four touchdowns against Indianapolis on Nov. 16 was followed by a benching for being late to practice. He was seldom used the rest of the season.

The bigger question might be who becomes the third-down back now that Vereen is gone. Brady, or whoever is at quarterback, relies on that back to either provide blitz-blocking – something at which Vereen excelled – or to make big plays. The Patriots wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl without Vereen’s 11 receptions.

There are candidates to fill the void: second-year back James White, Brandon Bolden, former Stanford star Tyler Gaffney (who’s coming off a knee injury) and Travaris Cadet, a free agent from New Orleans. One or several of those players need to step up and become a reliable threat out of the backfield.

4. Who replaces Big Vince?

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork took his game and girth to the Houston Texans after the Patriots decided not to bring him back for a 12th season. The big guy (6-foot-2, 325 pounds) will be missed, not only on the field, where he often drew a double-team, but in the locker room, where he was as respected as Brady.

There are plenty of candidates for his spot on the field, led by veterans Alan Branch, Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga (who made a huge difference once he was healthy at the end of last season) and youngsters Dominique Easley (first pick in 2014) and Malcom Brown (first pick in 2015).

None of them will replace Wilfork individually, but collectively they give the Patriots great depth, and the ability to rotate players in the middle of the defensive line. And that could pay a dividend in the fourth quarter.

Wilfork’s departure also could signal a strategic shift. The Patriots have swapped between a 3-4 defense (with Wilfork as the nose tackle) and 4-3 defense (with him at one of the tackles) over the years, sometimes using both formations within the same game.

But without Wilfork – and his ability to open tackling lanes for linebackers – it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots play a 4-3 primarily. They have the players to do it, both on the line and at linebacker.

The Patriots also signed Cleveland free agent Jabaal Sheard – someone who can play multiple positions up front or on the edge.

5. Will there be a Super Bowl hangover?

No team has won consecutive Super Bowls since the Patriots after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Heck, only one team – Seattle – has made it to back-to-back Super Bowls since.

With all the changes in the AFC East this year, New England’s hold on the division title (six in a row, 11 in the past 12 years) might be tenuous.

And this offseason has been, well, strange. In addition to the never-ending Deflategate debate, some players certainly enjoyed their championship celebrity. Butler lived the hero’s life. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was everywhere – teaming with David Ortiz to sing the praises of Dunkin’ Donuts (even in Spanish), writing a book and appearing on Celebrity Family Feud. Julian Edelman also was in demand.

Will the team’s focus be as sharp?

By now you know that you should never underestimate this team. Players go down with injuries, leave for other teams – and the Patriots roll on. That’s what happens when you have Bill Belichick as the head coach.

And they thrive on controversy, no one more than Brady. He’s always played better when he feels he has something to prove. Now, with Deflategate raising questions about his legacy (two MVPs, four Super Bowl titles), Brady appears supremely motivated to prove he’s once again the best quarterback in the NFL.

Don’t bet against him.

Or the Patriots.