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Moving forward, Patriots make initial cuts

With the regular season looming on the horizon, the Patriots released four players Friday as they prepare next weekend's opener.

You can trust Bill Belichickwhen he says he's already moved on from Thursday's preseason loss to the New York Giants.

Just in case you need more proof, check out today's waiver wire.



]()Wasting no time shedding the excess baggage, the New England Patriots released nose tackle Steve Fifita, guard Jimmy Smith, cornerback Jeff Shoateand tight end Jonathan Stuparon Friday on the eve of final roster cuts – less than 24 hours after wrapping up a winless preseason with a 19-14 loss at the Meadowlands.

The deadline for final cuts is Saturday at 4 p.m. The Patriots currently have 71 players on their roster, which means 18 more transactions will be made within the next 24 hours to reach the NFL limit.

"There are a lot of different scenarios involved," Belichick said Friday. "The 53-man roster includes the practice squad and various injured lists, so there's plenty of back-and-forth between not just or team but all the teams in the league."

The Patriots are also trying to get a grip on the new technological advances and rule changes that will come into play this season. After winning the opening coin toss for the fourth week in a row, they decided to receive the ball rather than defer their choice until the second half. Taking advantage of a new rule that gives teams two options, the Patriots deferred in each of the first three preseason games, but Belichick – after previously stating he'd defer all year – indicated Friday he had changed his tune on whether or not the choice makes a big difference.

"We talked about that and it seemed like there are some advantages to deferring, but we've also played an awful lot of games where we won the toss and took the ball and we've done well in those games, too," Belichick said. "I don't know if there is anything to getting the ball and having the first crack at it, or giving it up and having the first possession of the second half.

"We just thought we'd go the way we've been doing it in previous years and not get too creative here with new situation."

The chance to strike first also factored into Belichick's decision. After watching the opponent take the opening kickoff and score in each of the first three games, the Patriots wanted the opportunity to grab an early lead, but their first drive stalled at the 49-yard line before Chris Hansonpunted.

"Taking the ball and kind of having the first opportunity to score or get good field position [is a factor]," Belichick said. "Our kick returns have been productive lately. Even in the worst-case scenario, you don't drive all the way down for a score, but you're hopefully putting them on a long field and can hold it that way.

"It's not that big a deal. It all turns out the same anyway. We thought we'd give our offense a chance [to open with the ball]. It's something they need to experience anyway."

On the technology front, Belichick admitted the Patriots "didn't really do all that much" Thursday with the defensive headsets the league will implement in 2008. Under the new rules, only one defensive player on the field will be permitted to wear the communication device, which allows coaches to send in plays from the sideline.

The problem is few teams have three-down players on defense, particularly at a position such as linebacker where most of the calls are made. Furthermore, this new system, according to Belichick, may be more of a burden than a boost for a team like the Patriots that frequently substitutes its defensive players. The Patriots tested the new equipment two weeks ago against the Eagles and came away with mixed results.

Will they try it again during the regular season? Belichick suggested it could be a situation tool, perhaps used when the opponent is running its no-huddle offense.

"The only decision I can say is we'll do what's best for the defense," Belichick said. "Right now, it's not that high of a priority. Once we feel like we've got that down, got our substitutions down and got the pace of the game, then maybe we'll feel better about whatever decision we make.

"We had guys in and out of there [Thursday], so it didn't seem like it was the best night for that equipment. It's hard to be giving information to someone you don't even know will be in the game and then depending on them to give out that information to someone else. That's really the bottom line. Until we can get a real good comfort level with what we're doing and how it should flow smoothly, I don't think it's in our best interest. It's just not something we're comfortable with utilizing until we know it's not going to be a problem."

As for the personnel on the field Thursday, Belichick spoke briefly about veteran safety John Lynch, who volunteered for more playing time and got his wish by spending most of his night in the secondary against the Giants.

"He was in on a number of stops," Belichick said. "He's progressively gotten more comfortable with what we're doing. John and I talked about it the other day and I definitely think he feels better about what he's doing. He had a good opportunity to do it [Thursday] night."

The players released Friday had little impact on the team's progress during training camp or the preseason. Shoate signed with the Patriots on Aug. 9 due to a lack of healthy bodies at cornerback, but the return of Ellis Hobbsand the continued development of rookie Terrence Wheatleymade him expendable. Stupar joined the team as an undrafted rookie in May, but fell victim to the numbers' crunch at tight end with veterans Benjamin Watson, David Thomasand Tyson DeVreefighting for roster spots. Fifita and Martin came to New England with limited experience, playing just 13 games combined since 2006.

While the last exhibition game typically signals the transition from the offseason to the regular season, the first real sign that football is upon us comes when those final cuts are announced prior to the start of Week 1. By 4 p.m. Saturday, the Patriots will have their 2008 team set in stone – for now – and will finally be ready to move on from what turned out to be an underwhelming preseason.

"We're just trying to sort all that out and look at the different scenarios," Belichick said. "We'll manage the situation as best we can."

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