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All Good News: Five Players No Longer PUPs

Harrison, Seymour, Others Back on Field
None Expected to Play Saturday vs. Falcons

According to a press release issued by the New England Patriots:

The New England Patriots have removed five players from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list - DB Randall Gay, S Rodney Harrison, C Dan Koppen, DL Richard Seymour and DL Johnathan Sullivan. Additionally, the Patriots announced that veteran safety Mel Mitchell (arm) and rookie wide receiver Matt Shelton (knee/groin) have been placed on the reserve/injured list and as a result will miss the remainder of the 2006 season.

Tight end Daniel Graham also practiced for the first time this summer.

OK. I fibbed a bit. There's just a touch of not-good news: Chad Jackson isn't practicing. He's missed a few days now. According to Jon Wallach of WEEI, Jackson is "still in the doghouse." I'm not sure what that means. All else I've heard on Jackson is that he's nursing a hamstring. I just hope it's not a "Terry Glenn hamstring."

Homeland Defense: The Return of the Generals

But, obviously, the important news is that Harrison and Seymour are back. They're nowhere near close to game condition, but getting two of the non-Canadian Power Trio (Seymour, Tedy Bruschi and Harrison) simply on the field is a huge morale lift for a defense that spent an entire year without all three of them on the field at the same time.

Harrison participated in some drills, including a 7-on-7 with the scout team, but remained held out of more physical work like one-on-one coverage drills. Baby steps, man. Baby steps.

"It was definitely emotional, very much so," Harrison said in a press conference following practice. "There were a lot of different feelings going through my body. But it felt good to be back in that huddle." A bit of caution: Harrison is 33 (34 in December), and the media says Corey Dillon is "old" at 31 (32 in October). Old guys don't heal as quickly, so being on the field and being "Rodney Harrison" can be two different things. But I'm optimistic.

I've stated my theory on the Patriots defensive before. Three field captains: one on the line (Seymour), one among the linebackers (Bruschi) and one in the defensive backfield (Harrison). They each count as more than just a great player because of the direction and leadership they provide to the other players in their domains.

Harrison was the missing lynchpin in the secondary, and his loss was most apparent against the teams we knew would pose problems -- throwing teams -- like Indy and Denver. The other players did a nice job mechanically, but they were sorely lacking that organizational level. Harrison's return is a logistical benefit almost more than anything else.

These next weeks and this season are extremely important for the future of the Patriots. They have the tools. Harrison and the coaches need to find the man who will be Harrison's heir some time down the road. They also need to find the next Bruschi, and I'm not sure such a player exists on this squad. Seymour should be around for a while, anyway, so that need is less pressing. As a matter of fact, it's not a need.

Dan Koppen: Report Front and Center

The return of center Dan Koppen is extremely good news for the offensive line. Guards and tackles, while not quite being interchangeable, don't always mix well into the center position. Playing center is far more than snapping the ball, as important and difficult as that can be. The center is the captain of the offensive line, the guy who often best reads defenses, gives direction, communicates with the quarterback.

Koppen is the most recent in a growing line of excellent centers the Patriots have groomed, and he's more than proficient. So beyond simply filling a position on the line, he does a job few others are qualified to do, and he does it very well. That takes the pressure off the other linemen, and they now can concentrate on what they do best and start gelling as a unit.

More Defensive Help

Randall Gay had a pretty good year, and he'll be better with Harrison, and Harrison will benefit from Gay. Johnathan Sullivan has been less than impressive on and off the field, and he's on thin ice -- not a good place for a guy who's listed at 315 pounds. But at least he finally passed the conditioning run. Maybe people named Sullivan should just stay away from the Patriots.

Finally, the losses of Mel Mitchell and Matt Shelton should be of little to no consequence.