By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 20, 2005

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Yeah, they don't count. But Rodney Harrison is right.

Nobody was happy about getting pasted 31-3 at Cincinnati last August, even though the Patriots won the meeting that counted. It was appalling to get shut out at home by Jacksonville, though the Patriots would finish the season in their fair city holding up another Vince. You thought the Patriots won the grudge match last August at Carolina with our top unit outplaying theirs, but the record book says the Panthers won the game.

Losing does stink. New Orleans won. Game still doesn't count. Get over it and move on, everyone.

Watching any preseason game takes a special kind of discipline, especially if you root for the Patriots instead of work for them. While your natural instinct dictates that you want your team to win every game, winning is never the top priority in the preseason. Talent evaluation is ongoing all over the place, and the Patriots have second unit players galore to assess and figure out what to do with them.

We say second unit because the starting jobs on both sides of the ball are pretty much set, except perhaps for right guard. You can pretty much call up Norv Turner out in Oakland and tell him who Bill Belichick will start in the season opener. What is at stake for the Patriots is setting up the depth of the team, which as everyone learned two years ago, is of paramount importance if the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl an unprecedented third straight time.

Thursday night's clash with the Saints gave Patriot Nation a pretty good look-see at some of the young talent on the team, and how they will fit in to the big picture when the games begin to mean something. Here is a quick analysis on five players who made the grade, and five players who might need to ply their trade somewhere else.

On top: Logan Mankins. This guy is getting it so far, and we don't mean just ugly haircuts. He has shown the ability to unleash powerful blocks and clear out running space quite nicely. On the first touchdown run of the evening, Mankins had the seal block on the left while Patrick Pass dove into the end zone behind fullback Dan Klecko. Later, on a left end run which was wiped out on a holding penalty by Matt Light, Mankins had the lead block and wiped out two Saint defenders. Kevin Faulk had 81 yards rushing, and many of the runs were in between the tackles.

In trouble: Billy Yates. Gene Mruczkowski has the backup center/guard job pretty well in hand. Yates had problems with the Saint scrubs late in the game. He missed a blocking assignment which resulted in a 12-yard sack of Matt Cassel in the fourth quarter. Overall, he will merely be a victim of the numbers game and has little chance to make the team in any case.

On top: Ellis Hobbs. What a difference a week makes. Hobbs went from not being able to defend in-cuts at Cincinnati to possibly emerging as the hot new kickoff return specialist. Hobbs ran back 4 kickoffs and averaged 27.8 yards per return. He rattled off a 53-yard kickoff return late in the second quarter. And he played a solid game on defense, leading the team with six tackles and one sack. Hobbs can flat out fly, and his work on kickoff returns spells danger for"¦

In trouble: Bethel Johnson. If Tim Dwight makes this team, and if Hobbs becomes the prime stud on kickoff returns, Johnson could be gone. Dwight led the Patriots with 69 receiving yards, and returned his only punt 19 yards. Johnson saw no action and is still known primarily for his issues on attitude and work ethic. Dwight has had an adverse camp, but looked every bit like the exciting veteran he has always been on Thursday night.

On top: Doug Flutie. The old man (Did I just say that? Was the Hail Mary that long ago?) can still sling it. That touchdown pass he threw to Jason Anderson was a thing of beauty. Saying that his 156.2 passer rating was terrific while throwing only four passes is stretching things quite a bit. But he came in and presided over two Patriot touchdowns in three plays. He won't beat out Brady, but any talk about Cassel taking the two spot on the depth chart can pretty much cease.

In trouble: Rohan Davey. Only one quarterback didn't play Thursday night. Davey's number wasn't called when the game was on the line. Read into that what you will, but the fact that Cassel got the close look in crunch time instead of Davey maybe spelled the death knell for the veteran backup. Despite his shortcomings, Cassel looks like he is zeroing in on the number three slot. Davey will probably be sent packing when the team breaks camp.

On top: Tully Banta-Cain. Sooner or later, this guy has to get some more playing time in the regular defensive rotation, and not just as an occasional helper. He looks better and better out there every time he plays. This writer would still like to see him try his hand at inside linebacker, just to see what shakes. He plays tough and just needs more seasoning to reach his full potential.

In trouble: Dan Klecko. It looks like his last chance to make this team is at fullback. He cannot cut it at nose tackle, his college position, as he is merely too small. He hasn't emerged as a middle backer. He blocks now and then in short yardage packages. Keeping a guy who excels at only that is a luxury that no team can afford to have. Klecko will simply have to convince Belichick that he can somehow help the running game by his being there.

On top: Kyle Eckel. He scored a touchdown in Thursday night's game and could possibly eke in as a second fullback if need be. He is powerfully built and showed a good ability to grind out tough yards. If Eckel makes the team, Klecko likely was sent packing because of it.

In trouble: Kory Chapman. There simply is no room for this guy on the team. But this guy should be praised for ripping off some nice runs in the preseason. He did average six yards per carry against the Saints on four carries, albeit against subpar resistance. But Chapman will probably need to try and make someone else's team, unless he clears waivers and makes the practice squad.


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