August 16, 2002
It's About Assessment, Not Celebration
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Wouldn't it be a kick if the only thing anyone remembered from Saturday night's stadium convocation was the yarn concerning CBS's Jill Arrington.
Arrington was featured in an article in FHM magazine, one of many "almost Playboy" magazines that elevate male testosterone levels with hunky guys and nearly nude women. Despite Arrington looking more lovely than lewd, CBS yanked her from the sideline at Gillette Stadium and gave the honor of the stadium tour to a somewhat-less-sexy Armen Keteyian. CBS apparently didn't like the stigma her appearance in that magazine, however non-titillating it may have been, engenders. Bob Ryan of the Globe condemned Arrington in general, saying that she "makes a mockery of everything the Lesley Vissers of the world have worked hard to create".
The nation will get a close-up look at the new Patriot palace, as the champs christen their new stadium with their preseason home opener. The Philadelphia Eagles, last year's NFC runner-up, come to town with a terrific defense and one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the business. The Patriots, coming off of a 22-19 loss last week to the New York Giants, have a definite task at hand in this their second preseason game of the year.
You'll forgive Bill Belichick if he gives a hoot about convocation night. Or Jill Arrington, for that matter.
While everyone on football planet will be concentrating on Gillette Stadium and be seeing firsthand why people are calling this already the best stadium in the league, Belichick will be giving his lads another shakedown, seeing who will and won't survive the first series of cuts. While seeing what his gang can do with Donovan McNabb will merit some interest, neither McNabb nor the top defensive unit will be around for most of the game, and the game won't come down to stopping McNabb with the Patriots up by 5 points late in the game.
McNabb may be the best running quarterback in the league right now, and he will be a good barometer as to how well the Patriots can swarm to a backfield threat. What may happen here is that Belichick may appoint a shadow for McNabb, somewhat like what happened with Marshall Faulk in the Super Bowl. The Patriots may not try to put pressure on McNabb, given his great protection thanks in part to left tackle Tre Thomas. But what the Patriots might try and do is similar to what they did to Mark Brunnell in the 1996 AFC Championship Game, and that is to keep McNabb from beating them on scrambles and keepers.
McNabb's running ability overshadows his talent at being a west coast quarterback. Like Tom Brady, McNabb will go with the short game, and often. The group of fairly non-descript receivers is incredibly dependent upon McNabb to be on the mark.
What the Eagles will need to do is to see what Duce Staley can do this year. Staley figures to be the Eagles' best chance at a running game. How well Staley does will affect how defenses play McNabb against the run, and how they set up containment for McNabb. The big downside regarding Staley is his penchant for getting injured, and a good deal of the Eagles' fortunes for 2002 may hang on Staley's ability to stay healthy.
The Eagles do it with McNabb and a great defense. Philly has a secondary to rival the Patriots, featuring a cornerback duo named Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Former Jet Hugh Douglas and Corey Simon anchor the pass rush. The Patriots had better take especial care that Douglas doesn't do to Brady what he did to Bears' QB Jim Miller in the playoffs last year.
Dang. We forgot that this is preseason. All of this scheming will be moot sometime during the second quarter, if not earlier. That's the seduction of these preseason games. You tune in for some real football, and before you know it you've got scrubs and guys you've never heard of.
The Patriots may open things up on offense, to see if what Deion Branch did last week was a fluke. One might wonder if Greg Robinson-Randall is going to finally get his chance to reclaim his starting right tackle spot. Daniel Graham finally hit the practice field this week, so Patriot folk will want to see what caused the team to pass on a stud linebacker in April. If Rohan Davey doesn't see as much or more playing time than Damon Huard, that'll be a shame.
The second and third units of the Patriot defense must step up and play a tighter game than they did last week. Jobs are on the line everywhere, but perhaps nowhere will these battles be more acute than on defense. With the offense fairly well settled, there will be backup jobs galore up for grabs.
If you figure that Steve Martin replaces Brandon Mitchell, and Rick Lyle is a solid bet to make it as a backup on the defensive line, then some players to keep your eyes on Saturday night are Antwan Harris, Tony Scott, Ratcliff Thomas, Maurice Anderson, Jarvis Green, Matt Chatham, and Mau Tuitele. Of this bunch, Harris and Green have the best chances to stick no matter what, but you might want to watch these guys very carefully and see what they can do.
Harris has already established himself as a hard hitter, and a reserve defensive back who can make big plays in big games. But Harris needs to step up and prove that he can indeed stand in and back up Lawyer Milloy or Tebucky Jones if either gets injured. As for Green, the fourth round draft pick has impressed the coaching staff thus far in training camp and has specifically drawn praise from Belichick. At first glance Green may be another Greg Spires, but the praise he's been getting means you should give this guy a real close look.
With guys like Brock Williams, Leonard Myers, Ben and Rob Kelly all nursing owies, look closely at Scott in the secondary. There may ultimately be no room for Scott on this team, but guys like this who have nothing to lose are often fun to watch. Scott will need to make big plays to catch the coach's eye, and perhaps consider Belichick to send one of the injured guys to one of those exotic lists.
Along with Green, Anderson will also merit a good look down low. He registered one of two Patriot sacks last week, and showed a great burst of speed on the play. Again, Anderson won't likely be going against Thomas and his starting cronies, but he's still worth a little of your attention.
And most of all, since jobs are on the line, you aren't likely to see 30-yard touchdown runs like Antonio Warren pulled off last week. The scrubs and bubs (bubble players, for those of you who didn't get it) will show a lot more energy than they did on that stinky play. At least they'd better, we guess.
With that, we'd like to ask you one favor. Get over the fact that it's the new stadium's debut quickly. In December, you'll be used to it and your team will hopefully be in playoff contention. If you want to see your team make the playoffs again, how well Belichick assesses his guys Saturday night will go a long way towards that reality. And the fact that Gillette Stadium is finally reality won't mean a darn in December.
Pity. If Arrington did the same kind of spread that Anna Kournikova did, then I'd go and buy the mag. Given some of the shots I've seen of the Russian tennis player/sex symbol, what Arrington did barely registers on the audacious scale.
Meanwhile, I once saw Visser with hubby Dick Stockton in a magazine pictorial. The mag was named GQ. Now that's a lady with class as well as brains.
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