By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 31, 2006

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Anyone object to Tom Brady spending Thursday night at home, far away from the Meadowlands?

Patriots/Giants
Close-Up
Where: Giants Stadium
East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Thursday 8/31/06
7:30 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
None
WCVB-TV 5
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 931
2005 Team
Records:
Patriots 11-7
Giants 11-6
Latest Line: Giants by 3 1/2
Kidding, of course. But Brady is not expected to play at all in the preseason finale Thursday night against the real occupants of Giants Stadium. The last thing you need is for Michael Strahan to turn Brady into Garin Veris vintage 1989. But the Patriots, who have won their last two preseason games by an aggregate score of 71-3, don't really need to tinker with anything in this upcoming game. It's pretty clear that the Patriots are in good shape as long as regulars stay healthy and don't suffer the fate of Veris and two of his teammates in the 1989 preseason finale.

That said, if you could pick which players you would want to star in Thursday night's game, here is who ought to adorn your list.

If the New England first offensive line and Giant first defensive unit could stay in for more than just a down or two, put in Patrick Cobbs and let him see what life is like with the varsity. Watching him gash defenses for almost 100 yards is nice until you understand that he's got practice squad guys blocking against NFLE guys.

Cobbs has had a nice preseason, make no mistake. He has rushed for 143 yards on 26 carries, the team leader in both categories. His average is 5.5 yards per carry, just a shade below the real deal new guy, Laurence Maroney. He is also second on the team behind Ben Watson with 100 receiving yards. At first glance, he looks to be a great slashing back with great burst and good hands. He seems like he would be making a solid case to make the team as a third halfback.

But again, all this hay was made against guys who won't be with their teams when things become real. How would Cobbs do against the iron of other teams? In a game like this, Cobbs would have to play early before Tom Coughlin pulls his starters out to avoid injury. Of all the players who should be looked at closely Thursday night, Cobbs is the one guy who could do well to play with the varsity if he can, and as much as he can.

Should Deion Branch's holdout continue on for the real long haul, tight ends become more and more important in the Patriot offensive scheme. Therefore, since it is well known that Watson is the new Branch for now, Bill Belichick would do well to give David Thomas lots of game action. This is a case where it might not matter if it's bubble guys out there. Thomas needs to get his hands dirty in any way possible just to get some live game action before the regular season begins.

Should Branch not come back, the Patriots will likely experiment with three tight end sets. In Watson, Daniel Graham and Thomas, the Patriots have a triumvirate which can present problems for defenses, if Thomas is utilized properly. Graham will be the blocker, and Watson will be the main man defenses will be keyed on stopping. This might enable Thomas to find openings out there if defenders become preoccupied with Watson. Since defenses might be confounded as to which player should cover Watson (e.g., a linebacker or a defensive back), this potential for confusion could open doors for Thomas.

That is why Thomas needs to be worked into the offense and often, not mattering who is out there on either side of the ball.

Junior Seau might get only a smattering of playing time. It might turn out that Bill Belichick is happy enough with the great veteran picking up the defense so quickly that he will rest him and not risk injury. And Seau should not have to play that much. But he needs to play a little bit more than just one series in the first quarter.

One major concern is that Seau may still need time to adapt to the Patriot defensive style, which isn't something he is used to. All his career he has been a "fly to the ball" type of guy, something he is too old to do now like he used to and something which generally isn't done here. In Foxborough he will be asked to learn two-gap and to stuff ball carriers. He looked pretty good in the game Saturday against Washington, but a little more seasoning won't hurt so that he will be ready when Buffalo unleashes the "greatest running back ever", Willis McGahee, on him in the season opener.

Down low on defense, no one will crack the trio of first rounders barring injury. So, rest these three guys all game long and let Mike Wright, Johnathan Sullivan and Jeremy Mincey get a ton of game action. This right here would be your second unit, unless Marquise Hill somehow gets into the mix.

Wright tied for the team lead in tackles against the Redskins, and had two of the team's seven sacks of Redskin quarterbacks. Sullivan, Richard Seymour's former teammate at Georgia, still has a lot to prove and only one more game to prove it. He needs to show Belichick that he can play, period. Mincey, a sixth round draft pick from Florida, led the team in tackles against Atlanta but hasn't been heard much from since.

As for Hill, he has to show Belichick that he is more than just a work in progress. Time is running out for the third-year lineman from LSU. He has not progressed as well as Belichick would have liked. He and Mincey could be battling for the final defensive lineman spot if Belichick takes only seven guys north.

Finally, give Eric Warfield a workout. He might be the last cornerback to make the roster. You have Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs and Randall Gay who are virtual locks, and you have Eugene Wilson who could help out if Tebucky Jones is well enough to reassume his old job at free safety. That leaves Warfield and Chad Scott to possibly battle for a corner job.

Scott was with the Patriots in 2005 after eight years with the Steelers. He played in only three games before shutting it down after week 5. Warfield is two years younger and one year less experienced than Scott, all of his previous experience in Kansas City. He did miss the first five weeks of 2005 but did manage 53 tackles for the season, including nine in the Chiefs' win over New England on November 17th.

Warfield should get a long look Thursday night before you cut him in favor of Scott. Perhaps Belichick will take five cornerbacks anyway. But Warfield should play as much as he can, so that everyone can see how much gas he has left in his tank.

Now you have a reason to watch the game, where available. Who knows, maybe you'll suddenly discover some guy you've never seen before and forget all about Patrick Cobbs.


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