…at 11 on “Sports Late Night” to discuss all things Patriots.
Boy, hope you were hitting refresh over and over again on your computer this afternoon. If you stopped for lunch or to check the score of the Sox game, you missed a ton of action:
- First, it was revealed that the Patriots cut loose Chad Jackson. The timing was odd — if they were going to cut him, why didn’t they do it yesterday — but people have told me that there was a possible trade in the works that fell through. (My sources also seemed to indicate that Jackson could be bound for Baltimore.) Jackson had an up and down career in New England, showing terrific potential at times, but struggled to come back from hamstring and knee injuries. As an potential postscript, I remembered an interview I did with him during training camp, where I asked him if he took anything from his time on the sidelines. Did it teach you anything? “Yeah,” he said with a rueful smile. “Don’t get hurt.” Jackson’s release would appear to be good news for C.J. Jones, a journeyman wide receiver (and, for what it’s worth, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet), who will likely see the bulk of the action that would have gone to Jackson. However, a quick look at the numbers reveals that Jones’ status may not be all that secure: while serving his one-game suspension, Kevin Faulk does not count against the 53-man roster. When Faulk returns, you figure that Jones is on a short list of players that might ultimately be released.
- Then, when the Patriots announced their practice squad maneuvers, they added the fact that John Lynch had been cut. On the surface, this appears to be a mutual decision: Lynch had clearly been working to get up to speed in the New England defense, even telling coaches he wanted more playing time in the preseason finale against the Giants. (He was on the field deep into the game, an extraordinary sight when you consider that he’s a likely Hall of Famer, and was playing against guys who were fighting for jobs.) However, there were times when he appeared to be a step slow — he swung and missed on a pair of tackles early against New York, including one on a fourth down play and one on a New York touchdown. Belichick certainly appeared to leave the door open for a possible return in some form or fashion (Belichick called him an “all-time great safety [and] one of the league’s classiest professionals.” Belichick added, “As has been the case in other situations, I would not rule out anything down the road,” but the move today could very well signal the end of Lynch’s amazing career.
- Going forward, with the open roster spots as well as depth questions at some positions, I would be shocked if they did not make at least one more sizable transaction between now and Opening Day. Whether this means a Ty Law signing or a shift at the backup quarterback position (as of this writing, there were still some quality backups on the waiver wire), you should count on New England making another move between now and Sept. 7.
Multiple sources have confirmed this afternoon to Patsfans.com that wide receiver Chad Jackson has been released by the Patriots. The receiver, taken in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft out of Florida, finished the preseason with seven catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson had struggled with injury the last two seasons, including hamstring and knee problems. As for Jackson, his future is unclear. Because he was released with less than a week before the start of the regular season, opportunities could be few and far between for the 23-year-old. However, one source indicated he could land with Baltimore.
Here’s the full announcement, just made by the team moments ago (a copy of this same release has already been cut and pasted to the messageboard):
The Patriots just issued the following release:
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots released four players today: second-year nose tackle Steve Fifita, first-year offensive lineman Jimmy Martin, fourth-year cornerback Jeff Shoate and rookie tight end Jonathan Stupar. Following today’s transactions, the Patriots report 71 players on their active roster. The NFL’s regular-season 53-man active roster limit goes into effect at 4:00 p.m. EDT tomorrow.
Fifita, 26, was signed by the Patriots as a free agent on May 5, 2008. The 6-foot-1-inch, 312-pound nose tackle has played in 13 career games with one start, all with the Miami Dolphins in 2007. Fifita was originally signed by Miami as an undrafted rookie free agent on April 5, 2006.
Martin, 25, was signed by the Patriots as a free agent on Feb. 5, 2008. The 6-foot-5-inch, 306-pound offensive lineman has not appeared in an NFL game. Martin was originally drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the seventh round (226th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Shoate, 27, was signed by the Patriots as a free agent on Aug. 9, 2008. The 5-foot-10-inch, 180-pound cornerback has played in 14 career games, all with the Denver Broncos (seven games in 2004, seven games in 2007). Shoate was originally drafted by Denver in the fifth round (152nd overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft.
Stupar, 24, was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted rookie free agent on May 2, 2008. The 6-foot-3-inch, 254-pound tight end attended the University of Virginia, where he played for four seasons from 2004-07.
…or New Jersey. Hell, let’s just call them links from the Meadowlands, and we’ll leave it at that. Anyway, there aren’t a whole lot of traditional pregame breakdowns in the New York/New Jersey papers so far, but here’s what we’ve seen over the last 24 hours or so: The Asbury Park-Press has the Giants saying they are not getting caught up in any rematch talk. New York linebacker Antonio Pierce tells the New York Daily News (scroll down) that if the Patriots do any trash talking this time around — like they apparently did in Super Bowl XLII — he’ll be laughing at them. You’ve got to scroll down a long ways, but this report from WNYT.com has Tom Coughlin saying playing the Patriots in the fourth preseason game is no big deal for New York. NFL.com has a faily vanilla look at a few things to look for for both teams. The Canadian Press has a good pregame breakdown, complete with a quote from Pierce calling the fourth preseason game “a waste.” And if you’re laying money on this one, check out this site here.
We’ll try and track down some more later on Thursday.
Here’s the announcement that came down moments ago from the Patriots….
The New England Patriots placed veteran offensive lineman Stephen Neal on the reserve/physically unable to perform list with a shoulder injury and placed veteran tackle Ryan O’Callaghan on the reserve/injured list with a shoulder injury today. Additionally, the team released fullback Kyle Eckel, cornerback Jason Webster and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell. The Patriots are in compliance with the NFL’s 75-player roster limit, which went into effect at 4 p.m. today.
Here’s the complete transcript of Bill Belichick’s Q&A with the media this morning at Gillette Stadium.
(Remember to check back at 4 p.m. for the complete list of roster moves…)
So that is one of the things we have on the agenda today [reduction of roster] the other ones are our last day of preparations for the [New York] Giants and then we are off down there tomorrow. We are closing down camp preseason here. This is really our last practice. You all look so disappointed.
When you waive guys at the end of the week, there is a waiver period. If anybody is claimed off of waivers are they required to go to that team or do they have the option of staying here if you have expressed interest in keeping them on the practice squad?
Well, if the player is vested than he terminates immediately, there is no waiver period until, I think it is the fourth week of the regular season. There becomes a claiming period. If any team was to release a vested veteran now, he would terminate immediately, he would be an immediate free agent and there is no claiming. If the player is not vested he would go to the team that claims him. He has no option, he has no say in it. The procedure over the weekend, the cut to 53 are due Saturday at 4pm. Then Sunday at noon the league will notify the teams if any of their players were claimed. If they weren’t claimed, then Sunday at noon when those players who are vested are terminated, they have practice squad eligibility. Then they would be able to resign with the team on the practice squad at noon or thereabouts on Sunday.
Does first-string offense and defense need more action in terms of playing time?
I think that varies from player to player. As a group you are just balancing off game action and preseason vs. getting everyone ready to go for the regular season. I think it depends on the individual player. Some players have practiced everyday, played in all the games and I think they are pretty close to being ready – as ready as they are going to be. There are players who haven’t played as much. Some guys have been out and are just coming back now after being out for a little while, so their situation is a little bit different. I don’t think it is the same for everybody.
How important is it for Tom Brady to get playing time?
Tom is in the same boat as everybody else. Each player has his own situation and they are not all the same. Tom obviously has a lot of playing experience and has a lot of experience in this system. If they are able to play then they will play. If they are not able to play or we don’t want to play them, then we won’t. We really haven’t made those decisions yet on the [New York] Giants game, so we will see how that goes after practice today before we go tomorrow.
How’s Wes Welker’s health?
Wes, he’s doing alright.
You have been in the league a long time. Does it ever get easier to make these cuts [roster reductions]?
Well, it is hard. The players work hard and give a lot. Some of them have given a lot for a number of years – it is not all rookies that we are releasing. You develop a relationship with the guys. They have won for you, played for you and given you everything they’ve got. At some point you have to make those decisions. It is one of the least fun parts of the job.
When you were an assistant, were you ever the Turk?
That was my first job when I was with the [Indianapolis] Colts. That was one of my first jobs.
You were so young at the time, was it even more awkward because you were maybe telling guys even older than you?
I think everyone knew at that time that I wasn’t the one making the decision. I wasn’t really the one telling them but when they saw me it was bad news. They knew that. They knew if I was in the area that didn’t boat well for them. If I wasn’t in the area then the coast was clear.
Can you give us a general run down of how the process goes when releasing a player?
Well, we watch the practice film everyday as a staff and of course we watch the games. Usually more in segments – the offense, the defense but we watch the practice film as a staff everyday. We talk about the players on a daily basis. It is not like every Monday there is a personnel meeting or anything like that. We talk about them. Before each game we talk about the players, not only how we are going to play them but how things are going. Then after the game we talk about them again, relative to how they played and also relative to how we are going to practice them or use them the following week in practice. Whether it is who gets reps, how we are going to break the reps up, maybe if we want a guy to work at a different position or more than one position. It is an ongoing process. It is not something that is a regularly scheduled thing. Of course the health of the players plays an important factor in some of the roster decisions and the overall make up of the squad. Whether it is PUP [physically unable to perform] or whether it is the projected length of time that our medical staff feels a player would miss or whatever circumstances surround that. Those are the kind of things we discuss as a staff and then Scott [Pioli] and I discuss more in particular, injures or player personnel procedures and rules as opposed to it being a big staff thing. That is really more of how to comply with the different rules that regard to releasing a player and different lists. So it is kind of a composite.
What are your goals for a final preseason game as a team?
It seems unlikely that you will keep five running backs in a season. Is there a lot of overlap between what they bring and how do you make decisions between veterans like LaMont [Jordan] and Sammy [Morris]?
First of all, I don’t think that the players at the same position are necessarily in competition with each other. They could be but they are also in competition for roster spots with other players on the team and possibly on the other side of the ball. That is the first thing. We want to keep the best players and that may be a balanced roster or not. It may include a few more players at one position and a few less at another. If we feel like that is where the talent is and that is the way we want to comprise it. Obviously, you have to have a certain number of players at certain positions just to operate but beyond that…I don’t even know if I could sit here and tell you how many of this we are going to keep and how many of that we are going to keep. I can say that we will keep the players that will give us the best football team and that may or may not be a balanced number. I would say that probably will not be because it usually just doesn’t work out that way but you never know. I think all of our running backs have been productive. Of course, Kevin [Faulk] has been productive, Lawrence [Maroney] and Sammy [Morris] last year when he had an opportunity to play. He [Sammy Morris] has been a versatile guy for us and LaMont [Jordan] got an opportunity in the Baltimore [Ravens] game and showed up well there as well as being productive with the [New York] Jets and Oakland [Raiders]. I think all of those guys have been productive and when BenJarvus [Green-Ellis] has had an opportunity, he has shown up. I thought he did a nice job running the ball and his blitz pick-up protection has improved as well. We have good depth at that position and all of those guys have been competitive.
When you make those first round cuts today, how much do you factor in other concerns like veteran players – letting them go today rather than Saturday to give them a chance to go play somewhere else?
That is a consideration. Getting through this game is a consideration. At the 75 cut, we are only making 5 player moves today and having them play the game on Thursday is definitely a consideration. I would say ideally if you could, you would probably want to have some type of movement with the players that are probably not going to play in the game anyway, if that is possible. If that is not possible than you want to keep the best players but you also have to keep players that can play in the game at the positions that you need them so the rest of your team can operate and get something out of the game. In a lot of cases, we have some guys that haven’t played a lot that we would like to see play just to see how that competition plays out in the last live action we have in training camp here. As usual, it is a little bit of a juggling act. Sometimes you are robbing Peter to pay Paul and you are taking one thing to get something else but that has a ripple effect somewhere else along the line. We are just trying to manage a team here. It is five players [roster reduction], which doesn’t sound like a lot and is not compared to our next player roster reduction. Again, playing this game and operating in the last preseason game is a factor too.
How much impact can the final game have on a player? How much can a player change his fate?
I think it depends on what that players situation is. All the players here are still competing for some type of roster spot on the team. I am not saying there are players that won’t make the 53-man roster but they are in competition for the practice squad spots. Even if they don’t make the roster, as we all know, there is a good opportunity for a lot of them to come back to us as things change during the course of the season. Again, it is another opportunity. I think every opportunity is important. I don’t know if I could sit here and say one game is more important than another or one game is more important that some good practices or some good practices are more important than a game. At this point, it is a composite of a lot of practices and four preseason games – some evaluation of those players, each player based on that. It is certainly part of the picture. I don’t know if I could put a weight on it or say it is more or less than something else. If you are running a race with a guy and he is a lap ahead of you and you have a strong finish, you are still going to finish behind him. If you are neck and neck with the guy and you have a strong finish then you beat him and it makes a lot of difference. So, it would depend on what the relationship of the competition at this point for how much the last game means.
Will you use this final preseason game as an opportunity to test out the coach to player communication [defensive headsets]?
Maybe. We talked about it after the Philadelphia game and we will talk about it either tonight or tomorrow morning on how we want to handle it. So, we might.
Will you automatically go with the same players? [Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel]
No. We have talked about a number of different things and a number of different options on this both with players and what is the most effective way for us to use it. If we want to experiment with that in this game, we can do that. This is kind of our last chance to do it here in preseason. The bottom line is the benefits have to out weight the operation that is added into the whole defensive communication. If it does, than great and if it doesn’t than it is really not worth it.
Can you talk about Dom Capers and what he has added to the team?
Well, Dom has a lot of experience in the 3-4 defense. Also, even two years with Nick [Saban] down in Miami with a defense that was similar to ours. He is very experienced, particularly in secondary play, as a total defensive coach and a head coach as it comes to personnel decisions, young players, older players, players who are arising, players who are declining and so forth and so on. I think he has a good perspective on those kinds of things and his coaching experience in the league is valuable and gives him a perspective on some of the issues our team faces that maybe other coaches haven’t looked at from that point of view. His opinion is valued along with everyone else’s but he has a pretty broad experience in a lot of different areas in the National Football League. Not as much with our team as the other coaches but probably more with other teams as a coordinator and head coach than other coaches and that is a balance too. A lot of our assistant coaches that have been here for quite awhile – they have a pretty good perspective on what we have done and how a certain player is relative to another player at this point in his career in our system. That is a good perspective too.
There is a lot of talk about bringing new players in and their transition into the system. What is the process like for brining a coach in and getting the coach up to speed with the program?
Well, I think it all starts in the off-season. They go through all of our play books and our cut ups of last year’s games as they are divided up by coverage, or pressure, or situation – goal line, red area, or whatever it happens to be. They learn the system and as we go into the spring camps when they are actually teaching it and instructing the players on how to do it. Then it takes on a little bit of a different element, how it looks on film, how we talk about it in the playbook and all that. Sometimes it is a little bit different and we actually get out on the field and things start happening quickly. In a case like Dom, who has a lot of experience, he has been through the tight-end motion, shifting, close split receivers, wide split receivers and all those little things that can affect a defensive technique or call. Still, how we adjust it and how we do it is a little bit different than the way anybody else does it and vice versa. The way anybody else does it is different. That is part of the learning curve too and a lot of times those situations don’t come up until they come up. It is hard until they practice some things out there until you actually see it and you actually get it. That is really when you explain, well this is how we are going to handle it. A certain relationship of two receivers running a route or three receivers, one guy is here, one guys is somewhere else – how do you play it, which one do you favor and so on. Those are things we just have to work our way through when we go into a new system and learn a new way of doing things. It is not insurmountable; it just takes a little time for everybody to get on the same page. It is just a little bit of a process.
Touch on the subject of what an achievement it is for players to play 10 plus years in this league.
Well, it is such a competitive environment and we all know how hard the players work to get into this league. In college, their careers, their training, all the things they go through to get drafted and get the opportunity to play in the National Football League. To get here and to play at this competitive level and fight off the challenges every year from all of the other players that are trying to take their job or come into the league or establish a position that filters someone else down, in addition to staying healthy and going through the grueling regular season schedule, year after year after year to get into double digits. That is a lot of football. It is a lot of football that has to be played at a high level or somebody else will be doing it. I don’t know that ten is the magic number but I think it is a pretty significant achievement for a player to play that long in this league at this competitive level given all the challenges that they have to beat no matter what position it is.
Here’s the complete transcript of Mike Vrabel’s Q&A with the media this morning at Gillette Stadium:
On being able to play 10-plus years in the NFL…
It requires a lot of work, and we’ve had a lot of guys like that here. I think that once you get in and you make it past your first couple of years, you have to do the same things that you did when you were fighting for that position — working out in the offseason, practicing hard, studying, and ultimately, going out and playing hard on the field. It doesn’t do any good just to be in good shape. You have to go out and make plays.
On facing the Giants…
I think we play them every year in preseason, or as far back as I can remember, the last couple of years. I think the last preseason game — I think when I first got here we practiced against them, and then played them in preseason.
On today being the last day of camp…
I think we’re all anxious. I think any time you get out of the hotel and get back home, that kind of signals the beginning of the regular season. Really, we’ve been trying to prepare for the regular season since we started camp. The whole idea is to build a team and find guys you will be working with the whole year.
On wearing the green dot helmet…
I had one for the first quarter of the [Philadelphia] game, and tried it out just to see how it worked. I think there are some things we’ll have to work through, from Dean [Pees] standpoint and from our standpoint, I think a lot of guys … we really haven’t had a lot of time to work with it. So I’m sure we’ll work again with it Thursday.
We just got a press release from Fox Sports, which includes these comments from Jimmy Johnson on the AFC East and the Patriots:
On the AFC East…
This is an interesting division. It’s probably the weakest division in football with one of the best teams in football. It’s interesting in that you’ve got some additions to the two bottom teams with a coaching change and with Bill Parcells going to Miami and with Brett Favre going to the Jets, that they should both make an improvement. The Patriots, again will be the best team in the division and one of the best teams in the NFL.
On the Patriots…
The New England Patriots, because of what runs this league: quarterbacks, defense and coaching…will still be at the top. With Tom Brady and what they have offensively, with their defense and with Bill Belichick and his coaching staff, they’ll still be one of the top teams in the NFL. They are getting older but they’ve brought in some good young players. I think they’ve nailed a linebacker and a couple of outside cornerbacks that’ll be an addition to the defense. I think, the other thing, Dom Capers is going to the Patriots. I know Belichick felt he was spread a little bit thin last year actually doing individual coaching more than being a head coach and I think that with Capers coming in there as a defensive coach, I think it will help him oversee a little better than what he did even a year ago. I think the other thing, without the distractions of all of the off the field situations they had with the league, with rules, etc, etc, I think that will allow them to focus. Now having said that, how can they duplicate what they did a year ago? They were the best team in football up until that last ball game. I do believe it will be incentive for them to go out there and prove that they’re still one of the best teams in football but I don’t know that they’re going to be able to duplicate the record that they had a year ago.