Yesterday, New England trimmed its roster to 53 players, as did every other team in the NFL by the 6 p.m. deadline. Technically, the Patriots currently have 54, but Kevin Faulk was suspended for one game and does not count against the roster.
By far the biggest surprise out of the 14 players cut was the axing of Fernando Bryant, who had started all four preseason games as Asante Samuel's replacement in the left cornerback position. From what I've gathered, his cut was due to his never having really broken out on the charts.
This leaves just four corners on the roster, but is also a clear indication that the Patriots like what they see from second-round pick Terrence Wheatley and fourth-rounder Jonathan Wilhite; otherwise, the corners would be deeper. I also believe that this means we will see a lot more of Wheatley than I initially expected to, and probably a little of Wilhite.
As far as casualties go, for the defensive and offensive lines, there were no real surprises, with Mike Flynn and John Welbourn being cut (neither had spent much time with the Patriots). The linebacker corp only had one surprising cut, and that was Victor Hobson, but Hobson never really picked up on the inside, being a recent transition from the outside linebacker position.
And as for the wide receivers, two surprising keeps were Ray Ventrone and CJ Jones; Jones especially because he had a tough time this preseason with several mental mistakes on kickoff returns several times. However, he did get some good long returns, so the Patriots may be seeing potential in him, and in Ventrone, a converted safety known for his scrappiness. Both players made the roster mostly on the hustle factor.
Of course, the biggest discussion so far this preseason has revolved around the backup quarterback situation. To many, including me, the decision to keep Matt Cassel was a surprise.
I have written elsewhere of his anemic preseason performance, but it may turn out that the Patriots are keeping him for other reasons, not just his extensive experience in the Patriots system. Namely, he is a great practice quarterback in that he can imitate other team's quarterbacks against the Patriots' first-string defense.
His uncanny imitation of Peyton Manning's habit of changing plays at the line of scrimmage during a playoff practice a number of years ago helped the defensive frontline to adjust their timing and rhythm, and reduced the number of offsides penalites, something Manning is good at triggering.
I also believe this is a sign that Kevin O' Connell's star is rising much faster than many people were willing to believe. Some of the knocks against O'Connell is that he has only played against third-string defense all preseason, but he has shown intelligence, great field vision, and an ability to step out of the pocket.
In the last game, he read a zone blitz, made a change at the line of scrimmage, and lobbed a pass to Chad Jackson for his first touchdown, and this is what Belichick loves to see ("situational football" is his middle name), and may have made O'Connell the No. 2 quarterback, or far closer to securing that role than many people believe.
Beginning at noon today (Sunday), players can be signed to the practice squad, and I am really hoping that running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis can clear waivers without being snagged by another team. As I have been telling people, you can teach players to block, but you can't teach speed or instinct for hitting holes.
But as we always say, "In Bill we Trust." He knows what he's doing..
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