By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 01, 2004

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Win? The Patriots win Thursday night if no one of consequence gets severely injured.

Patriots/Jaguars
Close-Up
Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Thursday 9/2/04
6:45 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
None
WCVB-TV 5
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 212, 931
2003 Team
Records:
Patriots 17-2
Jaguars 5-11
Latest Line: Patriots by 3 1/2
Basically, here is how the final preseason tuneup against Jacksonville at Gillette Stadium will play out: Starters will play one series, then grab some bench and giggle the rest of the evening. They know they've made the team, they will begin to think about how they plan to befuddle Peyton Manning once again. The rest of the game will focus on those players who don't have the luxury to laugh and look ahead to the Colts.

After the tough battle on Saturday night at Carolina, where the Patriot starters beat the Panther starters 17-13, Bill Belichick really needs not stretch the starters too much against an opponent they beat in the snow 27-13 eight months ago. The only way that a bona fide starter goes longer is if Belichick thinks Corey Dillon needs a little more work at hitting the line, David Patten needs some more catches to regain the feel of live game action, or Troy Brown, if healthy, getting some needed work in the nickel package.

Other than that (and we hope we're kidding about Brown), it will be an evening of who makes the team and who doesn't. That said, here is a preview of what is likely to be gleaned from Thursday night's preseason finale against the Jaguars.

Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury ought to be ashamed of themselves. Their attempt at playing backup quarterback is as unfulfilling as trying to determine if Paris Hilton is anything more than just a famous last name. If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R - Calif.) were the Patriot quarterback coach, he might refer to the two of them as "girly men"ť. Tom Brady is perhaps thrilled to death that neither man answers to the name Drew Henson, but God help the Patriots if Brady should head to the IR list.

Both quarterbacks will likely get extended play time. Both men need to score a slamdunk. Both men need to look confident out there, and convince Belichick, Charlie Weis and the fan base that things are okay if they ever have to assume the helm of the Patriots for any length of time. The common thread that binds both men is lack of confidence and lousy basic technique, the latter of which continues to be very hard to believe. But seeing both men exhibit happy feet and throwing footballs that look like water balloons in flight is not a pretty sight.

Davey needs to come to grips with the fact that NFLE minus the E represents a chasm bigger than the Grand Canyon. His success in Europe goes only so far, given that his audience thinks of Jurgen Klinsmann when they think of football. Davey looks anything but a champion quarterback, if the NFLE championship means anything at all. This is not to belittle the NFLE, it is instead a challenge to Davey to play up to everyone's expectations.

As for Kingsbury, he needs to show once and for all that he belongs in this league. Putting up big numbers at Texas Tech means more in Lubbock than it does in Foxborough. If not for Davey's two previous sub-par performances, Kingsbury's inability to hold the lead in the fourth quarter Saturday night would engender dartboards with his face on it all over New England. As of now, it is only one in a series of lousy auditions for Brady's backup job. Kingsbury literally is Davey without size and power. He also needs to show everyone that he can do this job, period.

Deion Branch. David Givens. Troy Brown. Bethel Johnson. David Patten. Cut any of these men and Belichick might actually be pond scum.

Seriously, all of these five men should make the final roster. P.K. Sam looks like a sure bet for either IR or the practice squad. J.J. Stokes has been cut. It should come down to either five or six wideouts being carried on the roster. If it's five, see the previous paragraph. The game should determine if six should be carried, and if so, who.

The leading candidates for a sixth wideout are Chas Gessner, Michael Jennings and Ricky Bryant. Of these men, Gessner would have the inside track. Bryant did make a good-looking touchdown grab against Philadelphia, but Gessner has the most catches amongst the three of them (the three have only nine total catches in the preseason). Gessner seems to have a better handle on route running and getting open. But he represents a big dropoff from the Big Five, and he may be more a luxury than a solid contributor if he makes the team.

In the trenches, look for Stephen Neal to make a push to try and win a starting guard job. He may not succeed absent of injury to Russ Hochstein and Joe Andruzzi, but he is healthy and ready to show everyone that the former wrestler from CSUB was not time wasted. Having him around as a backup is not a bad deal at all, but his credentials are pretty good: challenging for an NFL guard spot from a non-football institution (basketball, soccer and swimming rule the Roadrunner roost) and making it this far suggest that Neal can and should be something special.

Guss Scott's season-ending injury has seemingly opened the door for Shawn Mayer to return, after his ouster was practically guaranteed following draft day. But look closely at how well Dexter Reid plays, and what Thursday's game does for his place on the team. Both Reid and Scott have developed reputations as hard hitters and figured to help on special teams as well as special secondary packages. If Reid also has a terrific game at safety, Mayer may again be on the outside looking in, assuming that JeRod Cherry remains as the current incarnation of Larry Whigham, if Reid isn't the same himself.

It is more than likely that Tully Banta-Cain does not need to worry about making the team. It would be nice to see he and Justin Kurpeikis get ample time at linebacker, but for different reasons. Banta-Cain needs to show exactly what game he has, and in this case it's more related to parameters versus abstract content. Kurpeikis needs to show that the Patriots need him more than Matt Chatham when he returns from injury. Dan Klecko should also get a good look at middle linebacker. A good second half linebacker unit might be Banta-Cain and Kurpeikis at outside, with Klecko and Don Davis in the middle.

Defensive line has few interesting battles. Look for Ethan Kelley and Marquise Hill to get a lion's share of the playing time. Kelley is perhaps fighting for his last chance to stick in some way with this team, as he is listed as third on the depth chart at nose tackle. The sad thing is that if Kelley plays well, he probably goes to the practice squad instead of getting cut. In this case, getting cut may be more attractive for the former seventh round draft pick as he could go somewhere else and get more playing time.

As long as the starters stay healthy (and don't mention 1989 anywhere near anyone connected with the Patriots), consider Thursday night a success. Belichick will see who will be roster sports 46 through 53. The Jaguars will come, play and leave, hopefully as healthy as the Patriots hope to be as well.

Nice touch for this game being on Thursday. The next one is, also.


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