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September 01, 2003
Who Is Staying, And Who Should Be
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

The Patriots want to pass this year. Unfortunately, Patrick no longer figures into such plans.

Not that Patrick Pass would be groomed to be the next Larry Centers, who now happens to be a Patriot. Centers literally took the place of J.R. Redmond, but nobody really took the place of Pass. Well, someone did, but that won't officially happen until Mike Cloud serves a four game suspension once he is put on the 53-man roster.

The cuts were due Monday at 4:00 PM EDT, but Bill Belichick let everyone know a day early. Pass was at the forefront of newly former Patriots which included Dedric Ward, Russ Hochstein, Leonard Myers, Jamil Soriano, Ula Tuitele and seventh round draft pick Ethan Kelley. The Patriots can reclaim any such players who clear waivers, but such players are usually designated for the practice squad.

Pass and Ward will likely be scooped up by other teams in short order. And that should not really surprise anyone. Perhaps it was a surprise that one of Hochstein and Soriano weren't kept around. But the releasing of Pass and Ward were a bit surprising, and the two of them had definite roles in the 2003 Patriot scheme of things. Often times, tough decisions have to be made, but in these cases, one has to wonder why Belichick chose to let these potentially productive players depart.

Belichick chose to keep three tight ends, as has been the practice in recent years. Last year, the triumvirate was Daniel Graham, Christian Fauria and Cam Cleeland. The previous year, it was Jermaine Wiggins, Rod Rutledge and Arther Love. This year, Fred Baxter joins Graham and Fauria. Belichick apparently chose Baxter over Ward, and took five wide receivers instead of six.

This corner of the Nation says that keeping Ward might have been the better move in the long run. Every single Patriot wide receiver is undersized, as speed and quickness are emphasized over big and tall. Mindful of the beating that Troy Brown took last year, keeping six wideouts makes a great deal of sense. You have a wideout corps that will begin the season with Brown, David Patten, Deion Branch, Bethel Johnson and David Givens. Givens was one of the "stars" of training camp, and had to stick. Both Branch and Johnson have kick/punt return potential.

Ward was the odd man out simply because Belichick wanted the extra tight end. It comes down to what Belichick and Charlie Weis wanted more. In Graham and Fauria you have two decent receivers who aren't stunning blockers. Baxter is pretty much the same. In the long run, the extra tight end might not justify precious wide receiver depth, as long as the Patriots continue to feature rugrat wideouts. Brown's injury last year against Kansas City turned out to be the unraveling of the 2002 Patriots.

Then you have Pass versus Cloud.

On the surface, this is a real head scratcher. After years and years of "Yeah, this is the year the Patriots finally cut Pass!" and the backup running back somehow sticks, the axe finally fell. Pass had a decent training camp much like Givens did, but was really beginning to show some consistent and sustained development and results. He has shown that he can play in big games, and could have been a strong candidate for kickoff return duty.

The reasons for cutting Pass are simple. We sometimes forget that Centers is a fullback, not a halfback. Centers is the backup to Fred McCrary, so Centers on paper is really taking the place of Pass, not Redmond. In addition to this, the logjam at kickoff returner is deeper than meets the eye. You have Kevin Faulk, Branch, Johnson, and then Pass. The betting line is that at sometime during the regular season, Johnson will beat out Faulk for the bulk of the kickoff return duty. In this case, Pass is a victim of the numbers game.

Here's what doesn't add up. For the umpteenth time, Centers is replacing Redmond, not Pass. If the Patriots got Centers for his blocking ability, someone in the Patriot brass is a blockhead. And replacing him with someone who faces a four game suspension and hasn't played a lick in training camp is rather illogical.

Cloud was picked up as a free agent from Kansas City. In four years with the Chiefs, the former BC Eagle has rushed 121 times for 381 yards and a 3.1 average. Pass has only 92 yards on 23 carries, but a 4.0 average. It should be noted that Pass' rushing stats are low because of the fact that he has been a backup fullback the last three years, with little chance to run the football (not that Marc Edwards got that much rushing duty, either).

Again, what sets Pass apart from Cloud are his return ability, and the fact that he was here and isn't facing a suspension. But Belichick was clear on Cloud, that he was going to make the team no matter what. It's almost like Pass was doomed from the start, pretty much in the same boat Redmond was in.

The rest of the cuts aren't too surprising. The only other area where Belichick is taking a bit of a risk is keeping nine linebackers and only eight offensive linemen. Don Davis was a starting linebacker for the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, but on the Patriots he will join Larry Izzo and Matt Chatham on special teams kamikaze squads. One might wonder if Davis might have been sacrificed for Hochstein or Soriano, especially given how unsettled the right tackle position is. Both centers were injured at some time during the preseason, and Joe Andruzzi is finally healthy after an offseason of rehab. The extra depth at offensive line might feel a little more comfortable. Keeping nine linebackers perhaps goes to the new base defense, but three of them will be largely special teams players, as previously stated.

Questioning Belichick at this time of year is perhaps a little arrogant. The Patriots did come out of the preseason uninjured and undefeated. Belichick has his own vision of "his kind of players", the defense did make the gains it had to in the preseason, and Tom Brady is poised to advance the leadership qualities he has shown since the hallmark 2001 season. Why should anyone quibble over a sixth wideout, a third fullback or a ninth linebacker?

Because you can bet your boot that Belichick did a lot of quibbling over players 50 to 53. Besides, what's to say that player 53 becomes the key player which tips the balance of the division, or even the conference, in the favor of the Patriots? Far fetched though it may be, you simply never know (Antwan Harris had a fairly good postseason two years ago, didn't he?).

If player 53 is that important to Belichick, it's important to the Nation, too. And that is why we ask why.


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