By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 28, 2003

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Good news: The Patriots went 4-0 in the preseason.

Bad news: The last time they did that was in 1981. They beat the Chiefs and the Oilers. And lost to everyone else.

Worse news: Their prize from that horrid season was Ken Sims, even though they could have had Marcus Allen.

Bill Belichick called Wednesday night's 38-23 win over the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium the "worst game of the preseason". Even though the main goal of the final preseason game is to escape without any serious injuries (Andre Tippett, Ronnie Lippett and Garin Veris bring back wretched memories of final preseason games), it would have been nice if the Patriots had looked better in dispatching Da Bears. The Patriots now revert back to 0-0 like everyone else, so this 4-0 malarkey plus a nickel will get you a cup of coffee.

In your grandfather's day, of course.

The Patriots began the preseason with a thumping of the Giants, and ended it with two lost fumbles, horrid kickoff return defense and Bear running backs who made the Patriots suddenly fall on their knees and worship Ted Washington (the Bears continue to pay such homage to their former colleague). With the dawn of the 2003 regular season a mere nine days away, it is time for Belichick to assess the team, make the final cuts, and begin game-planning for a quarterback named Bledsoe and a receiver corps which no longer has Peerless Price among its constituents.

This writer doesn't answer to the surname Belichick. But if he did, here's how things might shape up.

Quarterbacks Neither Rohan Davey nor Damon Huard looked as awesome as some lower string quarterbacks have looked in recent Augusts. Huard is in the last year of his contract, and stormed out of the locker room after Wednesday night's game, a game in which he saw no action. Read: Davey will start the year as number two and Huard number three (Kliff Kingsbury has been placed on IR). It's not likely that if something happens to Tom Brady, Davey will be able to duplicate 2001. But Huard's contract is up at the end of this year, while Davey is signed through 2005. This is likely Huard's last year with the club, and Davey is the backup of the future.

Running backs The big question is who among Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk will emerge as the main man, if a veteran is not obtained in the interim. With the departure of J.R. Redmond, Larry Centers is the new pass receiving back. Fred McCrary and Patrick Pass will handle the fullback duties, with Pass likely seeing some action on kickoff returns. If Belichick keeps six running backs, perhaps Frank Moreau (released Thursday) will come back thanks to the situation involving Mike Cloud. Cloud saw no action in the preseason, and has a four-game suspension staring him in the face when he's ready to play. Cloud doesn't seem like he's a Belichick guy, but you never know.

Receivers Tall people need not apply for a job as a Patriot wide receiver. Certain to make the team are Troy Brown, David Patten, Deion Branch and Bethel Johnson. It wouldn't be the worst idea in the world for Belichick to also keep Dedric Ward and David Givens, with priority to Ward. Having six wideouts helps if one or more of them are butchered by large defensive backs who hit hard. Daniel Graham might have finally established himself as the starting tight end over Christian Fauria, while the latter might go into the "all he does is catch touchdowns" category. Six wideouts perhaps spells the end of the line for Fred Baxter.

Offensive line Okay, BC centers, heal up and that's an order. The line looks to be Matt Light, Mike Compton, Damien Woody, Joe Andruzzi and Adrian Klemm. Looming as reserves are Brandon Gorin, Dan Koppen, Kenyatta Jones (currently on the PUP list), Jamil Soriano and probably Tom Ashworth and Russ Hochstein. Bill Conaty was placed on IR, but Belichick released Corbin Lacina on Thursday, and we're left to wonder why (Belichick: "We can't keep everybody").

Defensive line This area went from old and creaky to a ton of pleasant problems. Washington is a ton all by himself, and his absence Wednesday night (due to his being in Chicago packing up for a move east) greatly underscored how valuable he already is to his new team. From this corner of the Nation, the view looks like Bobby Hamilton, Washington and Richard Seymour as the three down linemen. Backing them up will be Anthony Pleasant, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Dan Klecko and Rick Lyle. That totals eight men, which may be pushing it for this position. If anyone is to be cut, we'll be brave and offer up Ethan Kelley and maybe Pleasant as the odd men out, though nasty rumours said that Klecko was on the bubble.

Linebackers Looks like Tedy Bruschi will start in the middle with Ted Johnson, and Roman Phifer will be the first off the bench. Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin will anchor the outside, both men enjoying terrific preseasons. Washington will enable the middle guys to enjoy terrific regular seasons. Willie McGinest will likely be a backup at this position though he will often line up as a down lineman. Larry Izzo sticks only because of special teams. Don Davis and Matt Chatham are duking it out for backup roles here, as well as special teams duty.

Secondary Ty Law and Eugene Wilson look like the starting corners when the season opens. A year from now, Law might just price himself out of New England, opening the door for Asante Samuel to take over the other side. Wilson and Samuel are the cornerbacks of the future for the Patriots, period. Whatever duty Tyrone Poole sees is likely determined by how much growing pains either of the rookies encounter (assuming Poole remains healthy). If a fifth cornerback is kept, it will likely be Leonard Myers, though his cover skills still don't look all that sharp most of the time. Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison will be the safeties, and pray that one of them can cover deep. Two from Aric Morris, Antwan Harris, JeRod Cherry and Chris Akins will remain on the team in special teams and backup safety/nickel package roles.

Special teams Ken Walter retained his punting job after some mediocre competition from Daniel Pope. Adam Vinatieri missed three field goals and an extra point in the preseason; when Vinatieri misses three field goals and an extra point in the regular season, it may not be until 2005 or 2006. Lonie Paxton returns as the long snapper for all occasions. Troy Brown may begin the year as punt returner, but what is shaping up to be something real interesting is on kickoff returns. Belichick has Pass, Faulk and Bethel Johnson to choose from, and you really can't go wrong with any of them. Now, just put them up against the Patriot cover team from Wednesday night, and their average will be sixty or seventy-something.


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