By: Bob George/BosSports.net
July 27, 2006

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FOXBOROUGH -- Someone call up Steve Sabol.

Get all the guys in the production lab in Mt. Laurel, NJ together. Bring lots of coffee and candy bars. Lots of all-nighters coming up. Lots of film to edit. Lots of DVDs to burn. Lots of Patriot fans to be prevailed upon to hand over huge wads of cash.

Sabol, along with lots of other people, came up with the inspiration four years ago following Super Bowl XXXVI. Amazed by the reaction of Patriot Nation over their favorite team winning the Super Bowl, and the subsequent sales records broken with the correlating Super Bowl film, Sabol's gang at NFL Films came up with this idea called Three Games To Glory. Every play in the three playoff games that year (Oakland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis) were edited and put on film, with Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti on the call in the background. Patriot fans ate it up as if it were hot, juicy hamburgers off someone's hibachi in the Gillette Stadium parking lot.

Two more Super Bowls ensued, two more wins, and two more Three Games To Glory DVDs produced. The next two were even presented with Super Bowl-esque Roman Numerals. It's now part of the tradition. Sabol pounced on a chance to take advantage of a rabid fan base he never got to work with until 2002, and whenever the Patriots win a Super Bowl, Sabol and his outfit wins also.

Well, Sabol and his crackerjack staff need to get busy. Patriot training camp opens on Friday, and the Patriots are literally three players away from another Super Bowl win. For the most part, the Patriots return many of their core players from the championship years, and even though they have lost a few key component parts to free agency, they still have a lot of the players who have helped establish what is (and the correct operative word is "is", not "was") the Patriot dynasty. But there are three positions which need to be shored up in training camp, or at least as soon as possible into the regular season.

So, we call upon NFL Films to produce a new concept in football marketing -- er, that is, journalism. We'll call it Three Players To Glory. In presenting this new project, we make just a few itty bitty assumptions: that Stephen Gostkowski doesn't present a major downgrade at the kicker position, that Josh McDaniels and Dean Pees make smooth transitions into their new coordinator positions, and that Deion Branch's holdout proves to be nothing more than a little minor family spat.

That said, let's fire up the movie projectors. Find some old audio clip from the late John Facenda to use in the opening sequence. Let the amazingly articulate Sabol introduce the piece in the only way he knows how. Fire up that orchestra of theirs and bring up their usual stirring and effective background music. NFL Films presents: Three Players To Glory.

Number Two Wide Receiver

The Patriots still don't know who will take the place of David Givens, who will continue his career in Nashville, Tennessee. Givens made the task doubly hard on the Patriots, by leaving and by driving up the price on Branch. This leaves the Patriots with a major problem at wide receiver, more than many observers may realize.

But assuming the Patriots do eventually come to terms with Branch, that still leaves who will play opposite the former Super Bowl MVP. The current candidates are veteran Troy Brown, free agent Reche Caldwell, and second round draft pick Chad Jackson (currently on PUP list). Unless Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli have some free agent in mind, you might have to make Jackson the favorite, with Brown right behind him.

Jackson's two biggest problems are that he is a rookie and that he comes from a school with a bad reputation for wide receivers (Florida). Otherwise, he had a good mini-camp in June and showed why he was worth a second round pick (many called him the steal of the draft). Brown's biggest problem is his age (35). Caldwell, who also hails from Florida, has not shown anything in his brief NFL career which warrants him for consideration for the two wideout job.

It appears that for this to work out positively for the Patriots, either Jackson must have a stunning training camp, or maybe Ben Watson is the secret weapon on the end which Belichick is telling no one about.

Middle Linebacker opposite Bruschi

You know, if Monty Beisel can't become the next Ted Johnson, is a move to a base 4-3 in the offing?

This was a sore spot for the Patriots last year. With Tedy Bruschi out recovering from his stroke of last February, Beisel and Chad Brown tried to fill in. Unfortunately, neither player did that well; both men were confused often and Brown was showing his age. Beisel is back, and is the favorite to win the starting job, but he has a lot to prove.

If Beisel can learn the playbook, and if he can keep his poise well enough to avoid scuffles with print reporters (cross-reference: Tom Curran of the Providence Journal-Bulletin), his physical style of play should get the job done. The only other somewhat viable options here are Dan Klecko and Tully Banta-Cain (Ryan Claridge was cut on Thursday).

But someone has to do the job. Belichick felt that linebacker help in the draft was not an option. Either Belichick is going to roll the dice with Beisel or he figures he'll pick up a veteran who gets released during training camp. Even though the Patriots are deep enough at defensive tackle to make a 4-3 base work, the system works better in a base 3-4. Mike Vrabel will have to stay outside given that Willie McGinest has left for Cleveland. Therefore, it behooves someone to step up and solidify the other middle linebacker position.

Call Beisel the favorite, his job to lose.

Strong Safety

Rodney Harrison is already on the preseason PUP list. But all that means is that he can come back and practice when he is ready. It becomes more problematic when the regular season hits, then Harrison must miss the first six weeks if he is still on the PUP list.

That said, Harrison's absence last year was felt all across the secondary. His recovery from the horrific knee injury he sustained at Pittsburgh last season is being hailed as borderline miraculous, but to expect him ready for the regular season is asking an awful lot. If he is not ready to go, someone has to be ready to step in and provide some kind of leadership back there, along with the physical style of play the position demands.

Artrell Hawkins was a stopgap replacement, at best. Tebucky Jones, the former starting free safety, might try and step in at strong safety if he can learn the position and if he cannot be exposed as a lousy man coverage defender. Because Jones is very physical, he could conceivably fill in for Harrison until the latter is ready to return. It may turn out that Harrison will need all six of those PUP weeks to make himself ready to go.

Three Players To Glory. If they can be had, maybe the fourth edition of the parent production might be in order.


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