Thursday, April 24, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - And now the hard part begins for Bill Belichick.
Preseason is over, NFL roster's have to be down to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday. And Belichick has to tell 12 more that they won't be with the New England Patriots, after giving the news to 10 players Friday.
"This is the toughest part of the job," said Belichick after Thursday's preseason finale, a 28-20 victory over the New York Giants. "We got to camp with 90 players and we go to 53, so we know that we're going to have to tell 37 people that they can't be on the team.
"That's the math. It's always hard when guys work hard, do everything you ask them to, train hard, put forth all the effort they can put forth and you still have to tell 37 guys that they can't be part of the team this year. It's always a tough thing."
One round of cuts was made earlier in the week, to get the team down to 75 players. Thursday's preseason finale was a last-call for players who may or may not be wearing a Patriots jersey in a couple days, and some of those players learned their fate Friday.
Much was made Thursday night on Twitter as to who was on the field (veteran safety Adrian Wilson played well into the third quarter, Leon Washington retuned punts the entire game) and who wasn't (20 of the probable 22 opening day starters sat, the lone exceptions being right guard Dan Connolly, who has missed most of preseason because an injury, and rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who hasn't earned the right to sit out just yet.
But, as Belichick made clear, the only thing that matters now is how each player can help the Patriots in the regular season. "We just try to put everything together and make the best decisions we can for this 2013 football team."
Those who did get into the game knew exactly what it meant.
Michael Buchanan is a rookie defensive end out of Illinois, selected in the seventh round with the 226th pick of April's draft. He was projected as a depth player, someone who might be able to fill a small role. Physically imposing at 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, he was by no means guaranteed a roster spot.
But he prepared for this game like he hadn't before, studying the tendencies of all the offensive tackles the Giants might throw at him. And he responded. Playing the entire game, he had four tackles, 2.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
Asked after the game if he had thought about cutdown day, he said, "I think everyone thinks about it. Every game, you've got to take it as if it's a cut game."
That's why he studied film so diligently this week.
"I did a lot more preparing and getting ready, so that was the most comfortable I've felt," he said.
Buchanan felt he had made his case even before Thursday.
"I think I've made a lot of improvement," he said. "I think I've got a good grasp of my job on this defense and what my role on this team may be. Technique-wise, I think I made a lot of improvement, but I still have a long way to go."
And what could his role be?
"Whatever I'm asked to do," he said, an answer that surely will make Belichick smile. "If it's special teams, if it's passing rushing, whatever they ask me to do, I'm prepared."
Guys who didn't play, such as running back LeGarrette Blount, hope they've done enough to earn a spot. That he didn't play, he said, shouldn't be taken as a sign that he's made the team.
"Nah, I've got to keep on working," he said. "I've done everything I can to plead my case. Now I've got to just keep on working and hopefully they like me enough to keep me."
For Josh Boyce, a rookie wide receiver out of Texas Christian, Thursday's game didn't involve drama. A fourth-round pick with great promise (and speed), he has been touted since his selection as someone who can help this team immediately. And he showed why against the Giants.
In the second quarter, he made a move off the line that froze veteran Terrell Thomas and raced down the sideline to snag a 40-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett with his fingertips.
"Ryan threw a great ball; I just tried to make a play," said Boyce. "He threw it pretty deep so I just tried to go get it."
Earlier, he took a handoff around left end for an 18-yard gain. On each play, he displayed the speed and ability that everyone has raved about.
Boyce is one of a trio of rookie wide receivers -- including the undrafted Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, a second-round pick out of Marshall -- who will be among Brady's new targets. They have all had their moments in camp.
Asked if there's some competition among them, Boyce laughed.
"It's a friendly competition and we always try to push each other," he said. "Three rookies, all with the same goals, so we're always pushing and being hard on each other."
They'll likely be on the team next week, the Patriots' future squarely in their hands.
Others? We'll soon find out.
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: