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August 13, 2005
'Meaningless Games' Becoming More Meaningless?
BY: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com

CINCINNATI, OH -- It’s interesting to see how Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is starting to treat exhibition games.

In the past, like all other NFL teams, the entire starting units would play a couple of series, a half, or even into the third quarter in the third exhibition game. The rest of the league continues to operate that way.

Belichick seems to be changing that theory.

He’s now simply turning them into what they really are, and they’re now simply four glorified scrimmages.

Earlier in the week Belichick had told reporters that he was hoping to create some situations and put together some different combinations of players in order to allow the coaching staff to be able to evaluate how they would perform when faced with them on the field.

That’s basically what happened Friday night.

He took a look at several offensive and defensive combinations, which included sitting some veteran players down for the night, so he could get a look at some of the younger players. With 80 players to evaluate, along with mandatory cut downs, there’s a limited time both he and the coaching staff really have to make these personnel decisions. As a result with the lack of starters in the final preseason game last season, along with the strange player combinations that fans saw Friday night, it appears that thanks to Belichick you will likely begin to see this new trend continue to spread in the National Football League.

Let’s face it, looking around the league after Friday night’s game the number of injuries that occur during the preseason make you wonder why this didn’t happen sooner. Belichick set the precedent last year, and it probably won’t be long before other NFL coaches follow suit. It’s simple, keep your veterans off the field as much as possible and instead use that time to evaluate younger talent.

It’s hard enough to make the right personnel decisions when you have that many players on a football team and just four quarters in four exhibition games to evaluate them. There have been plenty of players cut in camp over the years who only went on to become Pro Bowl players with their new team. This obviously happens because there simply isn’t any other way to get a look at a player or how they’ll perform in game action unless they get a chance to play.

As a result Belichick dressed the guys he wanted to evaluate Friday night and sat the ones he didn’t.

It obviously makes perfect sense. Case in point was Patriots quarterback Rohan Davey, who Belichick put in with the starting offensive line and starting runningback Corey Dillon. Even with the team’s best players at his disposal he was absolutely atrocious. Patriots fans can count their blessings that quarterback Tom Brady, who sat out Friday night’s game, has been so durable over the past two seasons. If Davey had to come in and lead this offense for any length of time it’s pretty obvious that it would have been a nightmare.

Thankfully it seems like rookie QB Matt Cassel may provide a solid back-up behind Brady. He certainly appears to have potential. Patriots commentators Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti said during Friday night’s broadcast that Cassel reminded them of Steve Grogan for his physical mannerisms and the way he handled himself on the field during his time on the field. With Brady sitting out Friday’s game Belichick had over half the game to get a good look at him. Had Cassel not gotten as much playing time on Friday night fans may not really have had a chance to see what he could really do.

After all, whether he’s nursing an arm injury or not, Belichick knows what he has in Brady so there’s no point in risking putting him out there in preseason. They’ll be a quarter or two before it’s over for Brady to work out whatever kinks there may be. But considering the fact that linebacker Mike Vrabel went down with an ankle injury on Friday night you’ll probably see even more limited playing time from the starters from here on out.

For Belichick it appears preseason games have simply become a way to evaluate players. Nothing more, nothing less.

Needless to say get used to seeing these “meaningless games” become more "meaningless".

FIVE OBSERVATIONS FROM FRIDAY’S GAME

1) I find it interesting that Bills President Tom Donahoe was reportedly in Cincinnati scouting the game. It makes you wonder what other potential Patriots may end up heading to a division rival when roster cutdowns begin.

2) Rookie Logan Mankins looked impressive on the offensive line. On a running play by Corey Dillon I was impressed that he went looking for someone else to block after finishing his first. I had read about this when they drafted him but to see him in action makes me look forward to watching this kid in the future.

3) After getting banged up early in the game linebacker Monty Beisel came back and looked pretty solid in his first “game action” for the Patriots. He had several big hits in the third quarter along with a great tackle in the backfield and appears to be a great addition.

4) Willie McGinest had several opportunities during the game to make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and missed several of those tackles.

5) I thought wide receiver Bam Childress resembled a young Deion Branch, making some good catches and showing some nice moves after making several receptions.

THREE PLAYERS WHO SHOWED UP:

Offensive lineman Logan Mankins - Earned the starting spot and was completely as advertised. He’s tough, and looked like a veteran out there.

Quarterback Matt Cassel - Played well and took advantage of his opportunities. He needs to do a little better job holding onto the football, and did luck out somewhat with a couple of passes that could have been interceptions.

Linebacker Monty Beisel - Gave fans a scare after he was seen on the sideline being worked on by trainers, but came back and played well.

THREE PLAYERS WHO DIDN’T

Linebacker Willie McGinest - Missed tackles and wasn’t very effective.

Quarterback Rohan Davey - Even with the first offense personnel he was ineffective. This may have been his only shot to secure a back-up role.

Defensive Back Hank Poteat - His pass interference penalty was magnified by the fact it was called after he didn’t even turn around for the ball. To get called for pass interference is one thing, to do it in that fashion is inexcusable for a veteran.


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