PATRIOTS: Midweek News, Notes and Rumors

The New England Patriots are headed toward the the final stop of their brutal stretch of road games this week. Regardless of the cards they were dealt from injury and schedules, the team has been busy fixing things. Wednesday's quick hits include the rumors of a receiver coming back, news on some recent visitors, and a pile of praise heaped on the team's leader.

PHOTO: Safety Shaun Williams #36 of the New York Giants intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for wide receiver Andre Davis #18 of the New England Patriots during their preseason game at Gillette Stadium on September 1, 2005 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

PATRIOTS: Midweek News, Notes and Rumors
By Jon Scott, Patriots Insider

Davis Still In The Mix?

Wide receiver Andre Davis who was released by the Patriots September 28th may still be in New England's plans. Davis was acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns when it became apparent that the Browns were more impressed with their rookies than their oft-injured receiver.

As injuries mount around the league, a recovering Davis is drawing attention, most recently from Green Bay. The Packers are in need of another target for Brett Favre, and Davis appears to be on their radar. The concern in Wisconsin is that while Davis might be a good fit, New England is rumored to be interested in resigning the veteran speedster once he's healthy.

Why bring back Davis when Bethel Johnson just proved he's capable of catching the long ball? Davis is considered to be more of a complete receiver with better hands than the speedy Johnson. The trouble is, Davis may not want to resign with the Patriots who already have a talented group of pass catchers. He may prefer to land somewhere he can be a bigger part of the offense.

The draw of winning a championship has swayed many veteran free agents who could have been featured elsewhere, yet chose to go to New England for a good chance of going to the Super Bowl. Davis may need to decide if personal glory or winning a championship are more important to him before he signs elsewhere.

Another Running Back On The Horizon

The injury to Kevin Faulk has the Patriots preparing for plan B and plan C. Faulk, who broke his foot late in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, may take longer to recover than the Patriots can afford to wait.

With players dropping like flies around Foxborough, the Patriots need every roster spot than can get. Having both Faulk and Matt Light out extended time with leg injuries and not placing them on IR puts the Patriots at a roster limit disadvantage. The two spots could be used on players who could help over the next two months, rather than held for two players who will not see the field again until late in the season, a time when most playoff races are almost over.

The Patriots signed former Steeler running back Amos Zereoue to fill in for Faulk while he was out, but Zereoue hasn't seen much of the light of day in a Patriots uniform on game day. Head coach Bill Belichick chalks it up to Zereoue being unfamiliar with the system, but feels the back is picking things up.

"He's behind. There's no question about that." Belichick explained. "Amos has been working hard. I think that in the reps that he's gotten in practice, he's shown a level of execution that you can see that he is certainly making progress on it."

Belichick's use of the term progress is a positive sign for Zereoue, but that means little if it isn't fast enough. Progress will only get you so far in the NFL, any long-term project can tell you that.

Updated: Enter the mix Quentin Griffin, the former Denver Bronco change of pace back. Griffin was in town for a look this week. The 5'-7', 195-pound Griffin is considered a bit smaller than Faulk (5'-8", 202 pounds) and Zereoue (5-9", 223 pounds). His size limits his ability to be a regular back, but his low center of gravity, combined with a good set of hands and the ability to create yards after the catch are talents the Patriots desire.

Zereoue is plan B to Faulk, being of similar build and skills, with Griffin being plan C. Is it coincidence that the Patriots brought in Griffin the same week they play the Broncos? Maybe, maybe not. Any edge Patriots head coach Bill Belichick can get, he'll take.

Falcons Coach Heaps Praise on Brady

In his post game press conference, Atlanta Falcon's head coach Jim Mora, Jr. heaped praise on New England quarterback Tom Brady. Mora was working on explaining to reporters why the Patriots were able to hit on some long passes to set up their scores. After recounting the missed tackles, or bad coverage schemes, Mora finally shrugged with a "What do you want me to say" look and talked about Brady's talent.

"Tom Brady is a great quarterback and has great vision," Mora said. "The thing about Tom is it's hard to fool him. He's so smart. You try to disguise your looks and show him different things, but he caught us in a couple [bad] coverages… The guy is going to the Hall of Fame. We might as well just induct him now. He's going there."

Mora had to feel exasperated, having just watched his team come from behind to tie the Patriots in the final minutes, only to see it all slip away as Brady led New England on their final scoring drive. Watching Mora, it was evident he had nothing but respect for watching one of the best signal callers in the game manage to lead his team to victory, again.

Third String Quarterback Watch

Is it a trend or just a coincidence that the Patriots continue to bring quarterbacks to town for a tryout? The latest was Todd Mortensen, a former BYU and University of San Diego product who signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions in April. Mortensen was part of the Lions final roster cuts on September 3, 2005. He was in Foxborough for a tryout this week according to local reports.

What the Patriots are looking for when they bring in a quarterback is anyone's guess, they don't comment on players who have tryouts. Mortensen is at least the third quarterback the Patriots have taken a look at. Two others included veteran free agents Shaun King (Cardinals) and Jesse Palmer (Giants).

The continual parade of bodies through the facility is part of the process according to one source. The Patriots, just like many teams in the league, use their off days to bring in players they have an interest in to see if they might want to explore making them a part of the team. The advance scouting, if you will, is part of that process. Too much shouldn't be read into what this means for the future of rookie Matt Cassel or veteran backup Doug Flutie.

Cassel was drafted in the seventh-round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Patriots and had a decent preseason until an awful outing the final game. Flutie is an ageless wonder who was signed in the offseason to be an insurance policy in case starter Tom Brady goes down unexpectedly. While Cassel may have a shot at being the QB of the future, Flutie does not. Expect a graceful Flutie exit at the end of the season.

APB Out For Secondary Help

Two weeks after signing Michael Stone (a cornerback/safety) to the roster, the Patriots are again auditioning defensive backs. Lingering injuries to Randall Gay, Duane Starks, Chad Scott, James Sanders, Tyrone Poole and the loss of Rodney Harrison have forced the team to adjust their thinking in the secondary. What was supposed to be a position of strength, has been an Achilles heel of the team dating back to last season when wide receiver Troy Brown was forced to fill in as one of the few healthy bodies available.

The nagging injuries have prompted the Patriots to continue their search for another healthy body they can plug in to their system. The team has limited options now. They can find a free agent who's still out of work. They can sign a member of someone else's practice squad, or they can make a trade for a defensive back from another team.

Mario Edwards, a former Cowboy and Dolphin, was the player they decided to have in for a workout this week. Edwards was a sixth-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He played one season for Tampa Bay (2004), and was signed by the Miami Dolphins in April. The Dolphins released Edwards as part of the final roster cuts, not a good sign considering they desperately needed help in their secondary after losing Will Poole to a torn ACL. Edwards eventually lost his spot to rookie defensive back Travis Daniels.

Updated: Another body the Patriots evaluated for their secondary is former Giant / Lion / Buccaneer / Bronco Rod Babers. According to reports out of Colorado, the DB who had his 2004 season cut short due to injury was invited to Foxborough for a workout. The New York Giants drafted Babers, a speedy corner out of the University of Texas, in the fourth-round of the 2003 NFL Draft. They released him in September when the Lions picked him up. Babers played a few games for the Lions before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He joined the Broncos in 2004, where once again his season ended early die to injury.

The 5'-9", 195-pound Babers fits the mould of cornerbacks the Patriots seem to have a penchant for. While they would love to find a bigger back that can defend taller receivers, they continue to add players shorter than six feet who can run and cover. That may not be the best strategy, considering what transpired on Sunday in Atlanta when a 5-10 Asante Samuel came up about 6 inches short as he tried to knock the ball out of 6'5" Brian Finneran's hands on a critical 2-point conversion play. Samuel's hand was in perfect position, (between Finneran's and the ball), to knock the ball out, but his lack of height only allowed him to get his hand within 6 inches of the ball as Finneran had to reach up to wrest the ball out of the air.

On Again Off Again

The Patriots released OL Gene Mruczcokski according to a team announcement just prior to the Atlanta Falcons game. The former Purdue lineman has been on and off the Patriots team list numerous times as injuries have forced the Patriots to make roster adjustments time and again. Mruczkowski's roster spot was used to sign LB Eric Alexander to the active roster from the practice squad.

Back To The Practice Squad

Linebacker Eric Alexander was signed to the active roster on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Right afterwards, he was released by the team. Why cut a player the team just activated? Because they need to move Alexander back to the practice squad so they can use his roster spot for another body they need more desperately than linebacker. Alexander should clear waivers, and is expected to be resigned to the practice squad at that point.

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