Patriots hopefuls begin sweating it out in hot Tampa temperatures
By John Ingoldsby
August 11, 2007
TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- Football moved from training camp in Foxboro to a steamy stadium in Florida, where Patriots hopefuls got on a real field to begin sweating it out to make the team.
Quick first impressions from the opening preseason game Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are:
Matt Cassel being Brady-esque in spreading the ball around to numerous receivers in leading a touchdown drive on his first series of the year.
Brandon Meriweather means business, as he delivers punishing and prolonged tackles in bring down the ball carrier, while also showing some "U" attitude in jawing with a receiver.
Sammy Morris, who scored the Patriots lone TD in a 13-10 loss, is a solid back with great hands, nice combination for both toting and catching the pigskin.
|Running back Lionel Gates #28 rushes for the corner against Le Kevin smith of the New England Patriots at Raymond James Stadium on August 10, 2007 in Tampa, Florida. Gates fumbled on the play and the Bucs won 13 - 10. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)|
In a game with no Moss and no Maroney, Tom Brady and the first team played two series, before giving way to Cassel and company.
Brady looked fine in finding Kevin Faulk early and often for rushing and receiving, including a nice screen and a nifty catch down around ankles. However, Brady did miss an open Wes Welker on first down and showed his frustration with his hands on his helmet and shaking head, as if it were a real game. He also had screen pass knocked down by Bucs No 1 pick James Adams, a defensive end.
For those on the Cassel watch, his first action may have been the highlight of the night. After nearly being intercepted on his first pass that he floated in the right flat, the career backup then began to distribute ball like Brady, including two to Kelly Washington, as well as completions to Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, and Bam Childress. After missing an open Washington, Cassel made a nice scramble to set up a QB keeper for first down to end first quarter. He later limped a bit and was checked on the sideline, but came back in to complete the first half.
During the drive, Sammy Morris had three bruising runs in a row, ending with a TD.
On defense, Randall Gay started and showed himself to be a shutdown corner, but against the run, as he made two nice stops. Ellis Hobbs started at the other corner, and they were later replaced by the tandem of Meriweather and Tory James.
Veteran Mike Vrabel made his patented spin move and stuck with it to sack QB Josh McCown, followed on the very next play by Mike Wright surging up the middle to make another sack to force a field goal.
On the defensive down side, Adalius' aggressiveness was exploited when he invaded the backfield on a draw play, and was frozen in place as Cadillac Williams ran by him.
Also, rookie linebacker Oscar Lua seemed to be constantly in the middle of the action, both good and bad. The USC product was pursuing the Bucs receiver across the middle on Tampa Bay's 11-yard TD, but he later leveled a ball carrier over the middle.
Mike Richardson nearly making an interception on an athletic knockdown at the goal line of a long pass;
|Wide receiver Chad Lucas #15 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers battles cornerback Mike Richardson #35 of the New England Patriots for a pass at Raymond James Stadium on August 10, 2007 in Tampa, Florida. The Bucs won 13 - 10.(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)|
Defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith forcing a fumble;
Kareem Brown downing a runner 20 yards downfield;
Running back Clinton Smith picking up nice yardage on one run.
But in the end it was the Bucs game as they drove the length of the field for a game-winning field goal on the final play. A meaningless score, but a meaningful game, especially for the newcomers who will continue to sweat, no matter where they are playing.
NOTES: Bam Childress got his bell rung on a punt return when his facemask
was grabbed, and then his helmet was knocked off by a separate hit
stalwart Mike Alstott looked good on the sidelines, a day after going on IR
with a neck injury
Cassel showed his arm when he uncorked a long bomb to Caldwell, which was an incomplete overthrow Gemara Williams made a speedy kickoff return to the 35-yard line ... Mel Mitchell made a strong QB sack on a safety blitz Newcomers Marcellus Rivers and Dante Wesley each made their presence known Quite a contrast seeing Walt Coleman refereeing in the heat compared with Patriots fans frozen image of him making the tuck rule call in the Snow Bowl.
John Ingoldsby has covered the New England Patriots for various publications the past 13 years. He started covering the NFL for newspapers in the 1970s. John is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. You can find him on the Patriots Insider boards under the handle Rudiee.