Patriots Report: The List 8-28-05

In the second of our series of "The List", Patriots Insider Jon Scott shares his thoughts on the team, the players and what to look for as the season progresses. In case you haven't seen the insiders comments, they have been reporting from camp in a regular update series on the PI message boards. We invite you to check out the forums for more thoughts and observations about the team and the players.

PHOTO: Patriots running back Cedric Cobbs practices footwork during agility drills for backs at training camp in Foxboro August 9, 2005. (Patriots Insider Photo)

Patriots Report: The List 8-28-05
By Jon Scott, Patriots Insider

Ok Patriots fans, beating the Green Bay Packers 27 - 3 at Lambeau during preseason isn't exactly revenge for the sting of Super Bowl XXXI, but it did put things in a positive light as the season approaches. The Patriots, looking the part of a polished, playoff-bound team, beat up repeatedly on the hapless Packers. Even the reserves looked better this week than last.

In our second installment of "the List", we take a look at the some of the questions surrounding the team at the moment, including performances turned in by some of the players "on the bubble."

  1. What's happening with Rohan? That's the top question. It's in all of the emails we get. It's brought up in virtually every conversation about roster cuts, and it's making its way into trade rumors - again.

    Well, from the brief appearance Davey made in Lambeau, it isn't looking like he's working out the kinks in his game to run the Patriots offense. Rather, it looks like he was given a little slice of the game clock late in the third quarter to run a couple nondescript series as the rain started.

    It wasn't quite garbage time when Belichick put in his #3 QB, there were a number of starters still in the game at that point. On two series, six plays total; Davey netted 2 yards on 3 attempts for a paltry 42.4 QB rating.

    In close to 3 minutes of game clock, Davey was in charge for 8 yards of total offense. That's not going to get it done in the NFL. With ¾ of the yards coming from Patrick Pass, the outcome looks even worse.

    Looking at his preseason stats overall, gives an even worse impression of Davey's ability to lead the team. He's a 50% passer with no TDs and 1 INT. As unfair as stats can be, those numbers are hard to overcome.

    In his fourth year in the league, with a season in NFL Europe behind him, Davey should look more polished than he has.

    In spite of probably knowing the offense much better than his two competitors for backup duties, when the roster cuts come, Davey, as nice a guy as you'll ever meet, is probably headed to a new destination. You can't blame the coaching staff, who have given a chance to develop; it's that rookie Matt Cassel has looked better in far less time than the veteran, and veteran free agent Doug Flutie looks like he can fill-in in a pinch.

  2. Where is Matt Light? Good question, but one that's not a mystery. Light was out of the lineup for the Packers game after suffering a leg injury last week. In spite of what the broadcasting crew for the first half of NFL Network's coverage was saying, Light was out for the game, recovering.

    Reports citing Light's father have indicated number 72 will not be out that long. In the interim, Tom Ashworth moved from the right side to the left to fill in for Light, while the rookie Nick Kaczur stepped in for an injured Brandon Gorin on the right side.

  3. Where is Deion? Branch, who missed yet another preseason game, suited-up and was available if needed according the head coach. In reality, Belichick had no intention of throwing Branch into the lineup at a position they have to make decisions on. With the team needing to cut close to 50% of the receivers on the roster, the coaches needed to get a solid look at those who are still vying for jobs with the team. Branch is not only a known quantity; he has looked extremely sharp in practice, and appears more than ready for the season. There was no need for him to play in an exhibition game.

  4. Will any of the young receivers make the roster? That's a tough call. This team has a significantly improved group of players all trying to land one of the five or six coveted spots on the team. That means most of the inexperienced players will have to think about their futures elsewhere.

    Those with the best chance are probably Bam Childress and Jason Anderson, but they won't make it on the regular roster. They'll have to try to land on the practice squad.

  5. Is this the end for Bethel Johnson? Well, there's a saying in the business world that rings true for Bethel; if management keeps interviewing people for a job like yours, you should probably update your resume.

    Johnson has missed a major portion of the offseason with yet another injury. In spite of looking in better physical shape this season, Johnson has landed on the PUP list. This means the team does not have to make a decision on him until the seventh week of the season.

    A lot of things can happen in the next 9 weeks, including injuries to other starters or reserves who might otherwise be granted Johnson's roster spot. The biggest challenge for Johnson is the Patriots' newly acquired receiver Andre Davis.

    Davis has all of Johnson's speed, as well as stats that prove he's much more productive, even in the anemic offenses of Cleveland. If Davis can learn the system and mesh with the QB's on the roster, Johnson's probably played his last for the Pats.

  6. How are the Fresno State guys doing? This comes just ahead of "How's the Iowa State guy doing?"

    Mankins and Sanders have done well in with their opportunities thus far. Mankins, probably more than Sanders, because the big lineman was drafted to start at left guard position. There was little doubt the Patriots, who never make first-round picks for the offensive line, were going to plug Mankins right in.

    To his credit, Mankins has been improving since his arrival in Foxborough.

    Sanders has been a little more difficult to get a handle on. Playing only reserve duties behind the likes of Rodney Harrison and Dexter Reid, Sanders has slowly worked his way into mix with the second unit, splitting time with Reid.

    Reid, who may best be remembered as the Pats DB who gave up the late Eagles touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIX, has been a force as a hitter. It's his coverage skills that have been a concern. Sanders appears the better fit at that spot.

    If Sanders is going to make the roster it will be because he can contribute on special teams. To Belichick, if you don't have value in more than one facet of the game, the team can't afford to keep you around.

  7. Which TE will be cut Fauria or Weaver? It's probably a little premature to write the ending of Christain Fauria's days in New England. Fauria, who was asked by media members about the situation, handled it with all the tact necessary to avoid the ugly line of questioning.

    Whether or not the team decides to keep Fauria will depend on a numbers game with a number of other positions. It's unlikely that Weaver will be given the nod over Fauria when the decision gets to that point. More of a certainty is TE, Joel Jacobs, who is granted his NFL Europe exemption, so he's likely to get a longer look.

    Weaver looks like he's the one on the outside looking in at this point. Cut and resigned previously, we haven't seen enough of Weaver to think the team would keep him over Fauria.

  8. How does Ben Watson Look? Watson has been having a pretty solid camp. He has done very well with his rehab and looks in tremendous shape. When we saw him last season he showed his ability to make amazing plays. What we've seen from him so far has reinforced our opinion that Watson will be a significant contributor to the receiving corps of the Patriots.

    Watson has an amazing ability to twist his body around to make the acrobatic catch. Fauria also has this ability, but Watson brings with it a more impressive physical presence. One thing he hasn't shown well is in his ability to "Wham block" like Dan Graham. Graham clears out space like few others in the middle on one of the Patriots' signature blocks for the TE. If Watson can improve there, he's going to be one of the best in the game at the TE position.

  9. How are the Patriots running backs doing? The running back by committee seems to be at an end. Dillon who has solidified his grip on the job continues to get the majority of the work with Faulk and Patrick Pass filling in the gaps. That leaves questions about the newcomers.

    Cedric Cobbs is probably the one in the most tenuous position. He has been injured for most of the preseason and hasn't shown much when he wasn't injured. His fumble in the Packers game didn't help his case.

    Kory Chapman has looked significantly better than Cobbs in camp, and in the games. If we had to choose between the two, we'd say Chapman would get the nod. With Cobbs possibly getting an opportunity to join the practice squad if he continues to stick around Foxborough.

  10. What about Eckel? We really like what we've seen from Eckel so far, but that has been with the third-string units primarily. The case for Eckel is that his Naval commitment will cast a pall over his chances to get picked up by another team should he get released by the Patriots.

    Eckel ran the ball in the Packer game the last four plays and showed some speed in getting to the outside to turn the corner. Whether Eckel is driving the pile forward, as he did on the goal line in the first two games, or running to the outside, he has enough skill to consider keeping around on the practice squad.

    It's unlikely he'll be able to unseat Pass for the roster spot at the fullback position at this time.

Parting Thoughts: With roster cut downs coming either tonight or tomorrow, the biggest concern is for those players on the bubble. The rookies and undrafted free agents not part of NFL Europe last season are looking at this first round with the realization that they've had their shot, and hopefully some team with a need at their position has seen something they like.

Veterans on the cusp include some from special teams, some backups at the skill positions and some in the numbers game. Those in question are QB, TE, WR and LB. There are others including PK, Robbie Gould who have no shot, but they knew that coming in without a major injury to the starter, they would only be auditioning for other teams.

If you have any questions or concerns you would like to send to PI for inclusion on the next verion of The List You may send them to us here: Submit a question or comment

You can also submit your questions for the insiders on the Patriots Insider Message Boards.

UPDATE: As of Monday morning August 29, 2005, the Patriots have announced the release of three players: QB, Rohan Davey; S, Dexter Reid; RB, Cedric Cobbs. This column was written Saturday/Sunday prior to the release of that news. We present the column as it was intended for perspective on players prior to roster cuts. We will have a post-cut column to recap the fallout from those cuts later in the week.

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