New England Patriots: Team Notes

--The Patriots coaching staff is nothing if not organized and detail-oriented, but as Bill Belichick looks for flexibility in his players, he also demonstrates some himself. Still, it was mildly surprising last week when he admitted that the team's installation was behind what he thought it would be at the start of camp, especially given the strong veteran presence on the roster.

"We wanted to take a little extra time and make sure everybody understands what we're doing and make sure it is executed at a level we are satisfied with," he explained. "The players have been able to work together and communicate well so we are having, relatively, fewer errors than we had at times last year. Hopefully that will continue into the regular season when teams start scheming, giving you tougher adjustments. Right now we're doing less, but I think our execution is better," he added, echoing his sentiments about his offensive running game.

--The Patriots may have one of the deepest, most experienced linebacking corps in the league, but what makes it dangerous is the versatility of players like Rosevelt Colvin, Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer and Mike Vrabel. Because those players can play on or off the line of scrimmage nearly equally, the defense can disguise its looks and leave an offense guessing.

"Half of us weren't even linebackers when we came into the league," Bruschi pointed out. "We were on the defensive line; we were rushing. So we can rush the passer, we can drop back into coverage and cover guys man-to-man. We have guys that not only can play football, but a number of different football positions."

Colvin, Bruschi, and Vrabel were all college defensive linemen. McGinest was a linebacker at USC, but played defensive end for most of his NFL career before moving back to linebacker in the 3-4. Phifer is just a versatile player who has been an outside 3-4 linebacker and a Will linebacker in a 4-3. He is playing inside on the weak side in the Patriots 3-4 front this season.

--It is rather unusual, but the Patriots play their first three preseason foes - the Giants, Redskins, and Eagles - in the first six weeks of the regular season.

"I think that in certain instances, there are advantages and disadvantages," quarterback Tom Brady said about the scheduling. "Part of it is that we are really playing them soon so you don't have to show your hand. The other parts of it are that you really get to see how they are going to adjust to certain formations and see how they are going to play certain players and figure out the matchups and the speed. It's almost like getting two weeks to prepare for one meaningful game."

--Belichick has no patience for injured players and his frustrations began to show last week with a few of his hobbled players. Asked about the intense competition at wide receiver where six players could make the roster, Belichick said, "I don't know (how competitive it is). It will be nice to see what the receivers look like when they are all out there. So far it has been a revolving door. One comes in the other goes out. It will be nice to see what it looks like when they are all out there."

All but undrafted rookie free agent Chas Gessner and Deion Branch did make it back on the field for the Redskins game, but David Patten, Bethel Johnson, and Kerry Watkins were also on the sideline at one point during training camp. Belichick may be growing equally frustrated with cornerback Otis Smith, who has been one of his favorite players over the years. Earlier in camp when asked about the progress of players like Smith, Belichick would only refer to them as "day-to-day."

But asked about Smith's physical well being on Aug. 13, Belichick fired this small salvo: "That's a good question. I don't know. Until he can consistently stay out on the field so we can evaluate him and he can perform on a regular basis, it's going to be difficult to have a real accurate evaluation of where he is. We're not at that point yet."

--With rookies Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson playing well and Leonard Myers healthy and fighting for his roster spot, Smith could slide down the depth chart if he is unable to return soon, although he's not in danger of losing his roster spot even with the apparent depth at that position. Smith's experience is way too valuable with those rookies yet to cut their teeth.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I expect a lot out of myself. So regardless of what you would ask me to do or you would expect out of me, it doesn't really matter. As long as I'm doing what the coach asks me to do on and off the field, I feel fine about myself." - Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin on the high expectations that go with being a high-priced free agent.


Fortunately for the Patriots, guard Brenden Stai's abrupt retirement on Aug. 10 coincided the return of Joe Andruzzi to the field. Andruzzi played some in the Washington game this past weekend while giving way to Russ Hochstein, who also took some snaps with the first unit just as he has done in practice while Andruzzi works his way back from microfracture surgery.

Andruzzi took a light-hearted approach to Stai's retirement since Stai was the third guard to retire from the Patriots during training camp in as many seasons. "Death threats," Andruzzi jokingly cited. "These veteran guards that come in here, I guess they must be scared of (offensive line coach) Dante Scarnecchia or something. He must run them out. I heard it was me and (Mike) Compton that's been running them out."

The Patriots continue to tweak the roster, most recently placing wide receiver Dan Stricker on a reserve/injured list and claiming former Dallas Cowboys DeVeren Johnson, a wide receiver, and Marques McFadden, an offensive lineman. Two days later, the team turned around and released McFadden.

Stricker, 23, is a rookie free agent out of Vanderbilt while Johnson, 24, was drafted by Dallas in the sixth round in 2002. The 6-4, 211-pound wideout spent his rookie season on the Cowboys practice squad.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Adrian Klemm vs. Tom Ashworth for starting right tackle. It's difficult to imagine Kenyatta Jones being able to take over the starting job he held last year by the start of the season since he missed all of training camp recovering from knee surgery. In his absence, Klemm started camp atop the depth chart but has faced a tough challenge from Ashworth, who started the second preseason game in Klemm's place and played well, leading the way for the Patriots first touchdown of the game, a 5-yard Antowain Smith run.

"Tom's had a good camp," Belichick said. "He's put himself in a good competitive position. He's a lot stronger than he was last year and he's playing stronger. He has done a good job and it has shown up on the field."

Klemm has not distinguished himself and could go from working with the first unit at the start of camp to cut by the start of the season. Assuming Jones makes the team and eventually takes over at right tackle, Klemm and Ashworth would fill the same role as the reserve swing tackle who could fill in on either side in a pinch.

OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: Quarterback Rohan Davey worked second behind Tom Brady last Saturday night with Damon Huard working with the third group. That is not an indication that Davey has moved past Huard, however, but rather an indication that it is truly a fair competition for the backup job. Huard played after Brady in the preseason opener and maintains his edge for the job so far. Playing the entire second half against Washington, Davey struggled miserably, completing just 1-of-6 passes for minus 3 yards. It also may be difficult for Kliff Kingsbury to find a roster spot as the fourth quarterback since such spots will be tough to come by. The Patriots kept four quarterbacks in Belichick's first season at the helm in 2000, but broke camp that year with only 50 players on the roster. Belichick didn't believe he had 53 NFL-caliber players at that point, which made it easy to keep four passers. That's not the case this year.

Ken Walter continues to hold off Dan Pope for the punting job. Walter has been excellent in camp and needed to following a subpar 2002 season. Pope hasn't punted badly, but hasn't done enough to unseat the incumbent even after outperforming Walter against the Redskins.

Antowain Smith likely earned a slight edge over Kevin Faulk for playing time, although if neither emerges, the team will attempt to use their contrasting styles as an advantage. Smith had seven carries for 33 yards against the Redskins, including a 13-yard run and a 5-yard touchdown dive.

At wide receiver, six players have a realistic chance to make the roster. Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Givens, Bethel Johnson, Dedric Ward, and David Patten could all be on the team on Sept. 1. Patten's 85-yard touchdown reception in Washington may have silenced some of his doubters. That was a huge play for Patten given the competition at the spot. Belichick recently mentioned the similarities between Ward and Patten in terms of size, speed, and catching ability. While reading between the lines and making assumptions can be dangerous, there is a minute chance Patten becomes the odd man out because he doesn't play special teams and Ward is an experienced returner. Patten's long touchdown catch, however, was a reminder of his playmaking ability.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Asante Samuel - The rookie corner spent the whole week working opposite Ty Law with the first unit after seemingly moving past fellow rookie and higher draft pick Eugene Wilson on the depth chart. He also started over Wilson against the Redskins Saturday night and nearly had an interception while notching his first sack. Samuel, a fourth round pick out of Central Florida, had a couple more interceptions last week in practice and has at least 10 during training camp, including one on the goal line that he returned 100 yards for a touchdown. He is physical and aggressive and most importantly, has remained competitive as the preseason tempo picked up with the start of game action.

ROOKIE REPORT: First round pick Ty Warren played the entire second half against Washington and picked up his second sack in as many games while adding two other tackles. He has yet to distinguish himself or earn a better opportunity to play with the ones... CB Eugene Wilson had an up-and-down second preseason game, intercepting a first quarter pass on the Patriots 2-yard line while also allowing a 35-yard completion when he was beaten by Laveranues Coles… WR Bethel Johnson continues to drive the coaches crazy with his inconsistency. He fumbled the same kickoff twice resulting in the Patriots starting a drive at their own 4-yard line, but returned his next attempt 97 yards for a touchdown…Dan Klecko, who is playing both defensive line and linebacker, saw plenty of first half action with the Patriots regulars and did not show up like he did in Game One. He played fine, but did get swallowed up a couple times when lined up on the nose… CB Asante Samuel started his second preseason game and continues to play well. He nearly intercepted one pass and then broke up a touchdown pass when it appeared he was beaten… C Dan Koppen performed well stepping in for an injured Damien Woody in the first quarter Saturday night. Koppen is developing well for a rookie center but still has a ways to go to be able to anchor the offensive line. His progress, however, is encouraging… TE Spencer Nead did not have a catch against Washington and may be seeing his opportunities slip away. The Patriots will probably keep two tight ends and Nead won't be one of them… QB Kliff Kingsbury did not play against Washington and may be the odd man out of the quarterback race unless his potential is deemed too valuable to let go, in which case the Patriots could keep four quarterbacks... After Davey's poor performance Saturday in Washington, his roster spot may not be the safest among returnees… NT Ethan Kelley did not have a tackle in limited action at Washington. While he has flashed at times, Kelley may be the victim of a numbers crunch and a viable practice squad candidate if he is squeezed out.

INJURY REPORT: Running back J.R. Redmond returned to the practice field last week but sat out the Redskins game... Fellow runner Antwoine Womack, trying to return from ACL surgery, is still out with tightness in his leg. His absence has nothing to do with his knee... Cornerback Leonard Myers tightened up on Tuesday, Aug. 12 but perhaps recognizing the urgency of his situation, was back on the field a day later and played at Washington... Otis Smith returned to practice early last week only to head back to the sidelines after two days. He missed the Redskins game and his status remains unknown... Offensive linemen Kenyatta Jones and Gene Mruczkowski, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, wideout Chas Gessner, Otis Smith, and Womack also missed the Redskins game... Damien Woody was kicked in the right ankle and left that game after one series. The specifics of his injury and his return status are unknown.

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