FOXBORO, Mass. – The final week of the preseason is halfway over, and it seems like the summer storylines are still in the process of unfolding. It’s been a wild month since the conclusion of the lockout, and it should be a sign of things to come throughout the 2011 regular season, both in New England and throughout the NFL.
Here is this week’s Two-Minute Drill.
1. Before we get to football, I wanted to share how much fun it was taking part in the Jimmy Fund Telethon on Tuesday, and Nahge O’Brien‘s story will stick with me forever. The 15-year-old from Bermuda found out he had leukemia two days after last Christmas and was in the hospital in Boston until June, but he had such a positive outlook on life and couldn’t have been more fun to hang out with. He’s starting his junior year of high school in a few weeks. How’s he getting back to Bermuda? Well, he’s driving up to Maine and sailing, of course. What a great kid.
2. I’ve heard from Patriots sources that Chad Ochocinco‘s struggles have been with the offensive playbook, which is much more complex than the Bengals’ system. The terminology is different, and there have been specific schemes that have troubled Ochocinco.
3. With that, though, the same people have said Ochocinco has worked extremely hard to get it down, and it’s not from a lack of effort. Plus, during drills, he’ll jump in and take extra reps, and the work ethic has been evident both on and off the field.
4. They’re confident Ochocinco will get it down because he’s been putting in the time, but they’ve seen him struggle with some of the concepts that can be difficult for a new wide receiver to learn right away.
5. This short week is going to make it difficult for bottom-of-the-roster players to show why they belong on the team. There is only one real practice, which was held in shorts and shells, and they’ll receive a limited amount of reps Thursday against the Giants.
6. However, at this point, the Patriots’ coaching staff has already carved out their opinions of the guys on the roster bubble. With the reduced amount of time on the practice field, it’s especially important for the younger players to prove their mental aptitude in meetings and film sessions.
7. Obviously, it’s an even crazier week for the Giants, who played the Jets on Monday after Hurricane Irene forced them to reschedule, and it would be surprising if their starters see any action Thursday, especially after Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka suffered injuries. Anyway, with so many young players looking to make one final impact, don’t be shocked if things get chippier than usual.
8. Former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich should also get plenty of playing time against the Patriots, so that will be cool to see.
9. The Patriots will have to cut 27 players by Saturday’s deadline to get to 53. Even with the expanded rosters, that’s only five players more than usual. In past seasons, teams were able to carry 75 players into their preseason finale.
10. I don’t think the Patriots made the right move of cutting safety James Sanders. If they win the Super Bowl and someone like Sergio Brown, James Ihedigbo or Josh Barrett steps up to play an increased role, then so be it. But Sanders’ reliability would have been a valuable asset to the young safety corps.
11. I understand the logic that $2.8 million is a good chunk of money to pay for a rotational player, but aside from linebacker Jerod Mayo, cornerback Devin McCourty, cornerback Leigh Bodden (if healthy) and safety Patrick Chung, the Patriots’ defense is filled with guys who are in and out of the lineup on a situational basis. The idea of having 11 starters hasn’t really been relevant for New England’s defense over the last few years because they rotate players in all three levels.
12. Obviously, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, linebacker Gary Guyton, safety Brandon Meriweather and a handful of other players will earn a large chunk of the team’s defensive reps and will be labeled as starters, but how many more reps will they get than Sanders, especially since the Patriots use a lot of nickel packages with three safeties?
13. The Patriots clearly took a beating in Detroit, but the experience could be beneficial long-term for a number of reasons. Mayo also touched on one of them.
“We learned a lot from the film, and that’s one thing that we’ll take with the loss,” he said. “We learned a lot, and hopefully we can move forward in a positive direction.”
14. More than anything, I thought Saturday was an evident case that the Lions amped themselves up for the game and used it as a measuring stick to prove to themselves that they’ve got enough talent to compete in the NFC North in 2011. The Patriots, on the other hand, didn’t show up, and it will be an important lesson that they’ve got to bring it every single week throughout the season. Even though they’ve got a large group of veterans, every team needs a lesson like that at some point each year.
15. One strange storyline this preseason, which has gone mostly unnoticed, is that wide receiver Deion Branch hasn’t caught a pass. I’ll make two quick observations with that, aside from the fact that it’s only the preseason. First, Branch has only played in two games, so the doughnut isn’t as bad as it sounds. Second, the Patriots really didn’t go down the field Saturday because there was so much pressure on Tom Brady, so it took away from Branch’s opportunities to make any plays.
16. Branch was asked about his statistical shortage and responded, “My job is to go out there and execute the plays that the coaches call. Definitely, as a receiver you want the ball, but we understand and I understand what we’re doing as far as working the things that we’re trying to do, working the kinks out in our offense. Trust me, I have all the confidence in the world that Tom will find me when he needs me, when the coaches make certain play calls for him to come to me with the ball. Right now I’m not stressing over the fact that I haven’t caught a ball in preseason.”
17. I liked Logan Mankins‘ reaction to being on the receiving end of a punch from Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Mankins chalked it up to a spat he got into with one of Suh’s teammates, and Mankins hoped his teammates would respond in a similar way.
18. In the spirit of the Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, I wanted to post three links from past stories, starting with a September 2010 feature about Gary Guyton‘s parents, who were both diagnosed with cancer.
19. From August 2009, former Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi discussed his battle with an extremely rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Andruzzi’s story is fascinating, as it showed that anyone can be affected by cancer, even if they’re perfectly healthy and preparing for another season in the NFL. It’s also multilayered, as it dated back to a close relationship he had with a teenager who died from brain cancer.
20. From August 2010, former Patriots cornerback Mike Haynes found out he had prostate cancer because of a screening he took simply to raise awareness at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since then, Haynes has been actively working to spread the word of being more conscious of prostate cancer.