The New England Patriots enter their bye week sitting at 2-8 and with more questions than answers. And with the playoffs seemingly all but out of the picture, much of the attention now turns to the future of the team.
While the battle for a top draft pick is certainly a huge part of that future outlook, evaluating the younger players on the roster over the last seven games will also be necessary. However, those players will continue to have to earn their opportunities on the field moving forward.
“I play players that deserve to play, let’s put it that way. If they deserve to play, then I’ll play them,” Bill Belichick explained Tuesday morning. “I’m not going to play somebody that I don’t think deserves to play or will hurt the team or isn’t ready to play. That’s up to them. If they show that they’re ready and deserve to play, then we’ll play all the active players, which we do most every week.
“We play just about everybody who’s active. They have a role in the game, with an exception here and there. But, for the most part, if they’re active, then we play them. It’s up to them to earn that, and if they do, then that’s what they can look forward to. If they don’t, then somebody else will have earned it instead of them and they’ll be out there.”
One of those players who has earned more playing time of late has been cornerback Shaun Wade. With the departure of Jack Jones and absence of J.C. Jackson, New England has been forced to rely on the 25-year-old over the past two games.
Playing 50 defensive snaps against the Colts in Germany, Wade took advantage of his opportunities and played one of his more consistent games in a Patriots uniform — which was highlighted by blowing up a screen for a five-yard tackle for loss.
“Shaun’s responded well,” Belichick said. “He had another solid week of practice, played very competitively in the game. Made a tackle for us on the tear-screen, [Michael] Pittman [Jr.] on the third-and-11. Made a play on that, short of first down, those kinds of situations. He’s taken advantage of his opportunities and that may lead to more.”
While Wade’s opportunities have come to him due to reliability concerns with other players at his position, other younger players may not be so lucky. For rookies like Marte Mapu or Kayshon Boutte — or anyone else fighting to get on the field early in their career — they will continue to have to prove themselves in practice in order to unseat a veteran.
“I think you’ve got to look at the football team,” Belichick added. “If you put somebody out there who isn’t prepared and isn’t able to do what they need to do, it puts other players at risk, and I don’t believe in that. That’s the way I look at it.”