By: Bob George/
August 31, 2005

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The people along the Gulf Coast have giant problems. The Patriots do not.

Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Thursday 9/1/05
8:00 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 931
2003 Team
Patriots 17-2
Giants 6-10
Latest Line: Patriots by 6
Little by little, the final roster is taking shape and the chaff is being weeded out. Players like Cedric Cobbs, Dexter Reid and Rohan Davey need to ply their trade elsewhere. Twelve more Patriots will meet a similar fate before things get real next Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

All that stands between the Patriots and that nationally televised clash with the Raiders is a meaningless battle Thursday night at home against the New York Giants. It is a game with no meaning to the Patriots other than to determine the last twelve players who will be told to see the coach and bring their playbooks with them. If any starter sees action, it will be probably to shake hands with Michael Strahan or Jeremy Shockey and ask Eli Manning how his rehab is coming. Other than that, the game is a mere formality and a necessary evil for those who are sure to stay.

The game is a nice homecoming for Tom "Herr Kommandant” Coughlin, the Giant head coach who is coming to Foxborough for the first time since bringing Jacksonville in for the 1996 AFC Championship Game. Coughlin, the former Boston College head coach and former assistant to Bill Parcells, ran a tough ship in north Florida, but moved to New York and is now the second coming of Colonel Klink (in title only). Coughlin has had to deal with this "kommandant” moniker, a somewhat unfair characterization of a guy who has shown to be a decent NFL head coach.

We'd like to sit here and wax poetic over whether or not Bill Belichick will learn to master still another member of the Archie Manning family, but younger son Eli will miss the game due to injury. There really isn't any reason whatsoever to go deep into "how the Patriots will attack the Giants”, "how to keep Strahan off of Tom Brady”, "waiting to see if Shockey will offer up any locker room material”. Belichick will call the evening successful if "no starter gets hurt”. That's about it.

Carrying this hurt thing further, it looks like Matt Light and Mike Vrabel, two of the more celebrated injured Patriots during the preseason, will be okay for the season opener. But because of their ongoing rehab, neither will dress for the game this week. Vrabel remains perhaps the most cerebral of all Patriot defenders, while Light showed he was badly needed when Tom Ashworth performed somewhat subpar while filling in for him at Green Bay last week.

The biggest areas of interest will center around wide receiver and defensive back. Belichick will need to decide how many of each he will carry, and then decide who stays and who goes. Reid's departure clears up the defensive back situation somewhat, and he may keep as many as ten of them. Less clear is what will happen to the wide receivers, as the flock is littered with guys who have injury and lack of achievement issues.

You pretty much know that Deion Branch and David Givens are safe. Troy Brown should be also, but his age is a factor. Still, Brown should stick at least because of who you'd be cutting him in favor of.

Tim Dwight has had a decent exhibition season after having a subpar camp. He has broken off a few good returns, and has value as a fourth wideout. He is an underrated veteran whose biggest problem is staying healthy. His small size contributes a lot to his penchant for injuries, but this is a guy the Patriots really ought to keep.

Trading for Andre' Davis likely means that Bethel Johnson is gonzo. Davis needs to learn the system and get used to how things go around here. The word is that he will become the next David Patten. He has Patten's breakaway speed, and can run deep routes well. He also projects as a kickoff return man (Chad Morton was let go, if that fact escaped any of you). But Davis has injury issues also. He probably stays.

Now, does Belichick keep five wideouts? If so, David Terrell bears watching closely in Thursday night's game. This guy used to haul in passes from Brady at the Big House at Main and Stadium in Ann Arbor. But Terrell has underachieved greatly in the NFL. For someone who was drafted as high as he was, his production does not justify his first round status. The main problem with Terrell is his head, as there have been complaints that he "is on the bubble but doesn't grasp that fact at all”. If Terrell stays, it's either by default or because Belichick simply couldn't do any better.

P.K. Sam has a lot of Patriot backers, but most of them are fans who saw him play at Florida State. Thus far in the NFL, Sam has done nothing except rehabilitate. What little he has done has been nondescript. No training camp reports tell of great tales of Sam's progress or development. All we have seen of Sam is a few catches in scrub time, none of which make you drop your jaw in amazement. If Cobbs and Davey can go by the wayside (Belichick tends to stick with draft picks for a while), Sam can also and likely will.

As for Johnson, he probably will be let go if he isn't put on the PUP list. His biggest problem, other than staying healthy, is his work ethic and his behavior. Johnson makes this team only because Terrell could not work out and Belichick couldn't find anyone better. Johnson will go down as a wasted talent, a speed burner who simply would not push himself to the fullest limits to maximize his talent. Johnson did show flashes of his talent, but if he finds his feet in the NFL, it will likely be with some other team.

In the defensive backfield, pay close attention to these three men: James Sanders, Ellis Hobbs and Guss Scott. Scott continues his rehab from last year and still remains a player with tremendous potential. But Sanders and Hobbs have become two of the more prominent players in camp this year. Hobbs has shaken off his penchant for giving up a play here and there to impress everyone with his speed and his return skills. Sanders continues to get praise from Belichick. All three men should get solid play time this week.

One more player bears watching: Dan Klecko. He may be on the bubble also, in that he can play lots of positions but isn't great at any of them. Fullback? Linebacker? We shall see. Belichick will hate cutting this guy if he has to, but Belichick will not keep him around if he can't play.

One more game, then one more week, and things get real. Don't watch the game if you can't wait to see the team you rooted for in the 1960s get creamed by the locals. Just watch and evaluate, and see if your cuts match the coaches' cuts.

Not that Belichick cares what you think.