Usually, NFL teams don't showcase starters much in the final preseason game. With Tom Brady and Laurence Maroney missing the portion of practice available to the media twice this week, it doesn't seem likely that they'll be playing much Thursday night at Giants Stadium.
Much of the quarterbacking responsibility will likely be left to second-year backup, Matt Cassel. Cassell has completed 63 percent of his passes so far in the preseason. He and Brady have each thrown 54. Cassel has completed 34, just one less than Brady's 35. Cassel has 484 passing yards and three touchdowns, and Brady just 404 and one touchdown. Even though their similar stats will quickly shift as the regular season gets underway, it's the preseason and Cassel's playing experience is something he's benefited from.
"I think he's made a lot of progress," said Belichick of Cassell this week. "We've been able to give him a lot of snaps this year in preseason. We gave him a lot last year and gave him more this year, and I think that has helped his development. He's worked hard and improved quite a bit."
He had stiff competition at USC and Cassel has relatively little game-speed experience for a second-stringer, both in the NFL and at the college level. Assuming Brady doesn't play much, Cassel will see a lot of playing time in this game, his eye on gaining more experience and further enlisting the confidence of the offense.
Corey Bramlet has yet to throw a pass, let alone complete one, but Belichick said that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be cut. If the Patriots are planning on keeping Bramlet on the 53-man roster, he may get some time as well.
Belichick also discussed how depth impacts playing time for the quarterbacks, saying, "Two is a higher priority than three. That's just the way it is."
The running game may not showcase starters as much either this week. First-round draft pick Maroney missed the last two practices with Brady and Corey Dillon admitted injuring his eye on a long run in the Redskins game, though he did practice all week.
Right now, rookie running back Patrick Cobbs leads the team with 26 carries for 143 yards. Again, experience is important for young guys. That's just how the preseason goes. The majority of Cobbs' carries have come later in games, so it's likely he was running against defenses trying to get a look at their own depth.
Belichick addressed the fact that Cobbs has been running against second and third-stringers during a conference call with the media on Sunday.
"A player can't control who is on the other side of the ball, so they just have to do what they can do," Belichick said. "But sure, in our evaluations, we try to take into consideration who is competing against who because, you're right, that's important.
"All of that being said, I think you have to look at what the player does and try to make some kind of evaluation on it," he said.
Considering Maroney's absence, perhaps fans will get a chance to see how Cobbs performs earlier against the Giants, when some starters are still in.
"He is a young player that has had some nice looking plays," said Belichick of Cobbs. "He's also had some other plays that he would need to improve on and be more consistent with. I think there are some positives there. There's a lot of things that he needs to do better that can help us more. He's made some impressive plays and made some nice runs and he hustles and he's a tough kid. What you want to see from a young player is a guy who continues to get better."
Improvement is of key importance in Belichick's evaluations. Don't be surprised if some young players get a chance to show how much they've improved in the final preseason game. The roster will be cut from 75 players to 53 next week. The battle for roster spots is ongoing and as Chad Brown said this week, "That's the nature of the business. Not everybody can make the team."
As for the team as a whole, cornerback Ellis Hobbs summed it up when he was asked about the upcoming Giants game and what the team is trying to focus on.
"That's the main thing – we're trying to focus," said Hobbs. "That's what we want to accomplish. We want to stay focused. Regardless of how many reps we get. Regardless of what's going on or what type of game it is. When we're in there and playing, we need to be on point with everything we do, communication, getting to the ball, making plays or whatever – on every level."