Belichick ponders cuts after last preseason game

It took the New England Patriots just 10 days to lose three

exhibition games. Now coach Bill Belichick is pondering who played

well enough to make the team.

NFL teams must reduce their rosters to the regular-season limit

of 53 by Friday at 4 p.m. EDT. That’s less than 48 hours after the

Patriots lost to the New York Giants, 6-3, on Wednesday while using

very few of the first string.

Instead, Belichick took a long look at players trying to make

the opening-day squad who can provide depth.

”We’ve played people so that we could try to evaluate the

competition in different spots,” he said Thursday, ”not only

between two players at the same position but between two players at

different positions relative to their overall value to the

team.”

The condensed scheduled affected Belichick’s decisions about

playing time. He didn’t, for instance, want to overwork a player by

using him a lot in each game. But that kept him from seeing how a

player handled three different opponents’ schemes.

”We kind of played a split-squad thing the last three weeks,”

Belichick said. ”Probably the amount of plays (a player took part

in) is about the same or close to the same. But it was more

segmented.”

The Patriots beat New Orleans, 7-6, then lost to Philadelphia,

27-17, and Tampa Bay, 30-28.

”We played a group of people in the Philadelphia game and

didn’t play (other) people in that game,” Belichick said. ”We

played another group of people in the Tampa game and those other

guys got very few reps in that game. Some didn’t play at all.

(Wednesday) night, we had another group of guys that didn’t play

and then heavier reps to a similar group that played in the

Philadelphia game. That’s how we tried to manage it.”

The Patriots scored just six touchdowns in the preseason, and

quarterback Tom Brady was used sparingly. What’s more, tight ends

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and

linebacker Jerod Mayo sat out two games.

Some, however, improved their chances of making the team,

including linebacker/defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, linebacker

Mike Rivera, cornerback Marquice Cole, defensive tackle Justin

Francis, fullback Eric Kettani and running back Brandon Bolden.

Cunningham had been a disappointment in his two seasons since

the Patriots drafted him in the second round out of Florida. But he

had two sacks against the Giants to cap an impressive

preseason.

”He came into camp in great condition,” Belichick said. ”He

worked hard in the offseason. He got faster, stronger, more

explosive, worked on his techniques. It wasn’t just one thing. He

has more position flexibility than he’s had for us in the past.

We’ve asked him to do more different things. He’s shown that he can

do them. He’s had more production.”

Rivera led the Patriots with 12 tackles against the Giants after

spending the final two months of last season on the practice

squad.

Cole provides depth in the secondary behind starters Devin

McCourty and Kyle Arrington. He also was impressive on special

teams after signing as a free agent following three seasons with

the Jets.

Francis and Bolden are rookies who played well enough to last,

at the least, through the games. Trying to ignore the shadow of the

roster cuts, Bolden started against the Giants, in fact, and gained

59 yards on 15 carries.

”Basically, I took that thought two weeks ago and just threw it

away and tried not to think about it as much as possible,” Bolden

said. ”That hinders your game if you let that float around in the

back of your mind.”

Belichick may have to choose between Bolden, who may land on the

practice squad, and Kettani, a former Navy Midshipman and the only

fullback on the roster. Second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane

Vereen are expected to get most of the carries.

”That whole position has turned over completely to a much

younger group,” Belichick said, ”which has its advantages and

drawbacks.”

Either way, when the Patriots start the regular season at

Tennessee Sept. 9, the players competing for roster spots are

likely to spend most time on the bench. And in between then and

now, the first stringers need some work.

”There are some things that we need to do that are Patriot

things that don’t relate to any specific opponent that we play,”

Belichick said, ”just things that we need to work on that we

haven’t really been able to do so far in training camp.”

http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and

http://twitter.com/AP-NFL