Thursday, August 11, 2005

Patriots 2005 Pre-season Update (8/11/2005)

Well, the off-season flew by, didn’t it? That five week playoff schedule really shortens the time between the Super Bowl and the first pre-season game – which, by the way, is this Friday in Cincinnati against the Bengals. The same Bengals who handed the Pats their collective heads in last year’s pre-season and almost beat them in a shoot-out last December.

But enough about who they’re facing in the fake games. We all know the first and most important commandment of the pre-season is to stay healthy. As is my habit, I’ll give you a quick overview of some stuff that happened since Bill Belichick’s last Gatorade bath and tell you what I’ll be keeping my eye on in the four exhibition games. Maybe it will even motivate some of you to watch the game ::snicker:: (Note: these suggestions refer only to the first team players. Don’t worry if the backups get smoked every week, it means very little.)

On Offense

On the offensive side of the ball, the changes I’ll be focusing on are the departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis (to Notre Dame) and left guard Joe Andruzzi (to Cleveland), and Andruzzi’s replacement, rookie Logan Mankins.

No one was named to replace Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator, and there’s been a lot of speculation about who will call the plays during the game. But what’s most crucial is that the team continue the offensive system effectively. The pre-season won’t tell us much about how the offense will play in the regular season, because teams don’t show their new plays or even make game plans until the real games begin.

But I will be on the lookout for any problems getting plays or players into the game. Keep an eye on how many “delay of game” penalties or timeouts are called on offense; those would be signs that the offense is having trouble adjusting to life without Charlie. I don’t expect there to be problems, but these kind of small mistakes would be the first signs of trouble.

It can be tough to decipher what’s going on along the offensive line, but here are two questions that will help decide if Logan Mankins is an adequate replacement for Joe Andruzzi at left guard. First, does Tom Brady get hit from the back side? If Mankins and left tackle Matt Light can’t protect the QB’s blind side, you can bet Mankins is the problem. Second, do you hear the referee call out Mankins number? If you hear “holding” or “illegal motion” penalties called on number 70 then the rookie is struggling to handle the increased speed of the pro game.

Keep in mind, though, that Mankins will likely improve as time goes on, as most first year players do. You might even see improvement from the first to the fourth pre-season games.

On Defense

There was a lot of change on defense, but I’ll be watching for three things: how the replacements for Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson hold up; how Vince Wilfork is progressing at nose tackle; and how the young players and newcomers to the Patriots secondary will perform without last year’s defensive backs coach, Eric Mangini (promoted to defensive coordinator).

The Patriots brought in Chad Brown and Monty Beisel, and they have a recovered Rosevelt Colvin, all trying to replace the twin-Teds in the middle of the Patriots defense. No one will replace Tedy Bruschi’s intangibles, and I think Colvin is Willie McGinest’s long-term replacement. But for this year, the Pats will use him on passing downs to replace Bruschi’s pass rushing and coverage skills. If Colvin can’t handle Bruschi’s chores, you’ll know because the other team will convert more of their third-and-four to third-and-six situations.

Chad Brown is a very likely replacement for Ted Johnson, both being more run stuffers than pass coverage guys, although Brown is better against the pass than Johnson. When the other team runs up the gut or close to the tackles, Brown will be tested. If the run goes for less than three yards, he passes the test – so watch for how many running plays make first-and-tens into second-and-sevens for a hint of how Brown is doing. Monty Beisel is an unknown to me, but I’ll watching to see if Belichick and company found yet another diamond in the rough. If he starts the game and is out by the second quarter, you know they are still high on his play because he will already be close to a starting job.

Vince Wilfork was my pick for most improved defensive player last year, and I can’t wait to see how he’s improved in the off-season. One clue to how well he’s doing is whether or not the other team’s offense can gain yardage running between the tackles. So watch for teams trying to run wide or use draws or delays to get their running yards – those are sure signs that Wilfork is doing his jobe by clogging up the middle.

In the secondary, half the team (7 out of 13 players) has three or fewer years of NFL experience. Additionally, the Pats signed three veterans (Chad Scott, Duane Starks, and Antuan Edwards), and of course, their coach from last year has moved up the ladder to defensive coordinator. So if you see receivers running free in the secondary or running backs turning 8-yard gains into 50-yard gains, that would indicate the new coach is having difficulty holding things together the way Eric Mangini did last year. Honestly, I don’t expect this will be a problem; both Mangini and Belichick are former DBs coaches and can lend a hand. But you never know, and that is why it’s always interesting to watch.

On Special Teams

The Troy Brown replacement sweepstakes have begun. I’ll be curious if veteran Tim Dwight or red-shirt rookie P. K. Sam can take Troy Brown’s return duties away. Dwight is injured and probably won’t play in the first game. But P. K. Sam was the heir apparent last season until injuries put him out for the year. The most important thing Sam can show in the pre-season games is the ability to just catch the ball, head up field, and hold onto the ball when he’s tackled. It’s always surprising to me how many return man wanna-bes can’t get even that right.

When Dwight returns from injury, he will know how to catch and run with the ball. The only question with him is can he find a roster spot with all the receiver talent in the fold.


Well, that’s basically what I’ll be watching in the pre-season. There are other things, of course – everything from new receiver David Terrell to how Richard Seymour’s holdout will effect his season – but I think two full pages of suggestions gives you plenty to go on.

Enjoy the games and let’s stay healthy!

Keep the faith,

- Scott

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