The New England Patriots' last preseason game against...drumroll please...their arch nemesis, the New York Giants. The team that snatched victory from the hands of our boys from Foxboro...please. It's a time for Belichick and the coaching staff to make some determinations about the roster, to test a few more theories and to get some final reps in before it matters.
As much as we've harped on the poor showing of our guys on the field, I've come to believe only the coaching staff truly knows why they played that way. Ellis Hobbs playing soft for the past 2 games? He may have been told to do so in order to prevent injury (he is recently off of the PUP, ya know). Matt Cassel getting hammered? Some folks have already pointed out he's played against first stringers vs. the 2nd and 3rd stringers Gutierrez and O'Connell have come up against. And, as I've stated before, there's the mad scientist, Bill Belichick, cooking up who knows what and hiding large portions of the playbook.
Quarterbacks - We shouldn't read too much into this, but Tom Brady is in the projected starting lineup. However many (or few) reps he takes doesn't matter; it'll be good to see him in a game situation, albeit preseason. What happens to numbers 2, 3, and 4 is anyone's guess and I'm more confused than ever. I will say if Belichick needs an open roster spot, he may look at one of these 3.
Running Backs - I am 90% that this gang of 5 (Maroney, Morris, Faulk, Jordan, Evans) is protected. I firmly believe Belichick thinks teams are scheming against the aerial assault of the '07 season, so he's switching gears and emphasizing the run. I haven't seen Jordan's hands, but we have Faulk for that; I believe Jordan's our redzone back.
Wide Receivers - Randy is Randy; he'll always have a starting spot. Monday, the other WR spot in the projected starting lineup was empty, but now contains Jabar Gaffney. This is interesting for a couple of reasons: 1) Wes is not there and may be recovering from his rib injury (I will bring him chicken soup and tea with honey and magazines...STOP THAT!) and 2) Jabar is the guy, not Chad. Chad's play has improved through the preseason, but only the coaches know if he can move forward. Even though CJ Jones made some plays in the last outing, he has not impressed me in the preseason; I think he's at risk.
Offensive Line - Matt Light returned to practice on the 25th, but is not seen in the projected starting lineup for thursday night. It still adds a needed boost just to know Matty's back. I won't go into each player in detail, but overall, possibly reading too much into it, Belichick is a little more confident in the O line as he's put Brady back there. Again, Brady taking reps could change in a heartbeat, but that's my take.
Linebackers - Bruschi (obviously) and Mayo at ILB. Not Victor Hobson, the veteran from NYJ, but Jerod. Victor has struggled to transition from OLB to ILB and has, in my mind, been beat out by Mayo. Victor is on the bubble. At OLB we find Mike Vrabel and Pierre Woods. This may mean Woods got the job over Crable, but it's still tough to tell. I hope Crable isn't on the chopping block; I like him.
Cornerbacks - We find Ellis Hobbs and Fernando Bryant and I think #3 will be Terrence Wheatley. At one time, we were carrying no less than 10 cornerbacks and we're now down to 8 with the most recent roster cut being Jason Webster. I believe this to be the most vulnerable group of all (we only carried 4 in 2007).
Safeties - For months I've been saying Rodney Harrison and Brandon Meriweather own these roles, but just realized they both play the SAME position - strong safety. We may see both of them on the field at the same time, but not always. Your free safety will, most likely, be John Lynch. John will also assume the nickel role on passing situations and either James Sanders or Antwain Spann will jump in at free safety. The Patriots have been placing a lot of emphasis on nickel packages so I'm interested to see how it plays out.
Special Teams - in the depth charts, CJ Jones, Wes Welker and Chad Jackson are listed as punt returners, while Chad Jackson and Matthew Slater take kickoff returns. This could be a saving grace for guys like Jackson and Slater who may be on the bubble in other positions, but can contribute here.
Whew, if you made it through that, gold star. My fingers are tired of typing and my brain hurts. The older I get, the less I can cram in there and something, inevitably, has to leak out first. Fire away with your predictions on who stays or just cut this story to shreds. It's all good.