New England Patriots: Team Notes

--When the media walked into the Patriots locker room following the team's 26-6 preseason opening win over the Giants, the rookies were either nowhere to be found or tight lipped despite impressive first performances from several of them. Bill Belichick is keenly aware that one preseason game doesn't warrant reservations in Canton, Ohio, but several members of his 2003 draft class did their talking on the field.

Wanted: star-caliber running back to challenge Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk for a lead back job. Must have speed, power and elusiveness. Apply to Charlie Weis in Foxborough, Mass.

For the Patriots offense to improve upon last year's up-and-down effort, two elements need to improve. They need to commit to and get production from the running game and also hit some big plays throwing the ball over the top of defenses collapsing on their short passing attack.

The elements are in place to achieve the passing goal, but neither Smith nor Faulk instills confidence as of yet that the running game can produce consistently. Unfortunately for New England, there is no back available that fits the above job description. So Smith must emerge as he did in 2001 for the Patriots to be successful offensively.

With wideouts Chas Gessner, Kerry Watkins and Deion Branch nursing injuries, the Patriots needed a body at wide receiver and signed former Giant and Arena Leaguer Thabiti Davis.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Antowain Smith vs. Kevin Faulk for starting RB -- Faulk moved past Smith on the team's official depth chart and started the preseason opener. He has out-performed Smith thus far on the practice field, but neither impressed during the preseason opener. Faulk's first carry was a 13-yarder on a second-and-17 passing situation play, but his other three rushing attempts went for 0, 2 and 3 yards, respectively. Smith carried seven times with two going for losses and only two going for more than 3 yards. Neither gained an edge, but expect Smith to win this job.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Punter Ken Walter continued a strong training camp with a fine outing against the Giants and is holding off competitor Dan Pope, who is kicking well. Walter's three punts in the preseason opener were all downed inside the 20 without any returns.

The battle for roster spots at wide receiver remains hot. If the team keeps six receivers, then the situation is settled, but if it keeps five, someone from the group that includes David Givens, Dedric Ward and David Patten must go. While all three are ahead of rookie Bethel Johnson, the 2003 second round pick is a lock to make the team. The Patriots knew he was raw when they selected him and will remain patient with his transition to the NFL. Givens is having a tremendous camp and led the Patriots with three catches against the Giants. Ward added a 46-yard punt return. Patten did not have a catch.

Right tackle Adrian Klemm is still ahead of Tom Ashworth, but this battle could heat up over the next two weeks. Klemm surrendered one of the three sacks allowed against New York and Ashworth has come from virtually nowhere to challenge for a job. Ashworth was on the practice squad in 2001 and on the 53-man roster last year, but was inactive for 15 weeks.

Damon Huard and Rohan Davey both played well in their battle for the No. 2 quarterback job. Huard still holds the edge to this point in camp, although Davey may have gained some ground by leading the team into the end zone against New York. Davey guided two scoring drives -- a touchdown and a field goal -- while Huard led a drive that ended in a field goal.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Tyrone Poole -- Poole has emerged since getting his personal life in order and seems to have solidified a secondary that will get a boost from the return of starters Ty Law and Otis Smith. Poole intercepted a Kerry Collins pass intended for Jeremy Shockey and returned it 11 yards to the New York 10. He averaged 9.5 yards on two punt returns, showing some nice moves in the process. He took some snaps with the first unit in the preseason opener in place of Asante Samuel and seems to have seized the nickel back job at the very least. He was called for a pass interference penalty against New York on a play where he had tight coverage, but made contact too early as the receiver ran an in-cut. Regarding his improved play after personal issues plagued him a couple of weeks ago, he said, "Football is football. You get four downs, 10 yards for a first down and six points for a touchdown. It had nothing to do with football. Football is still football." Poole is now playing it.

ROOKIE REPORT: Defensive lineman Ty Warren flashed some ability in the preseason opener with a sack and third-down pass deflection, but hasn't had an overly impressive camp. He is not ready to be a major contributor yet, but is making progress. He doesn't look overly comfortable with the defense yet and as he develops confidence, he should improve.

--Cornerback Eugene Wilson continues his stellar play and will be difficult to take off the field when Law and Smith return. His best play against the Giants came on a run force when he made a beautiful open field tackle on Tiki Barber that turned what would have been a big gain into a 1-yard pickup.

--Wideout Bethel Johnson shows ability, but not consistently. He made a 42-yard reception against the Giants, but also dropped a pass, muffed a punt and fumbled another punt. He is raw, but will still get opportunities to make big plays down the field. That's where his value will be this season.

--Dan Klecko is playing linebacker and defensive line and while he has seen little or no time at nose tackle since the start of camp, his abilities have shined through. He had a monster first game with 2.5 sacks against Giants reserves, but it should be enough to warrant a look against either the Washington or Philadelphia regulars over the next two weeks.

--Asante Samuel has a bunch of interceptions in training camp and like Wilson, continues to play well. He will slide down the depth chart when Law returns, but will still see action in the sub packages.

--Center Dan Koppen is still ahead of veteran Bill Conaty on the depth chart at center, which bodes, well for his chances. Koppen fared OK in the preseason opener, but did fire a snap at Damon Huard when the quarterback wasn't looking. It looked like Koppen forgot the snap count because no one on the line moved at the snap and it led to a sack. But at least Huard caught it.

--Tight end Spencer Nead didn't help his chances when he dropped a touchdown pass against the Giants. The Patriots may only keep two tight ends and even if they keep three, Nead is facing long odds.

--Quarterback Kliff Kingsbury completed only 1-of-4 passes in his debut and hasn't taken many practice reps. The jury is definitely still out on this prospect.

--Ethan Kelley showed some athleticism when he ran down the line of scrimmage to make a tackle and force a fumble, which the Patriots recovered. He is a developmental player, but is showing potential.

INJURY REPORT: Wide receivers Deion Branch, Kerry Watkins and Chas Gessner, running backs J.R. Redmond and Antwoine Womack, corners Ty Law and Otis Smith, linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Willie McGinest, guards Joe Andruzzi and Stephen Neal and tackle Kenyatta Jones all missed the opener. Law and McGinest will play against Washington and Andruzzi could also get some snaps in that game. The Patriots made it through the preseason opener against the Giants without any reported injuries.

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