Hang around an NFL locker room for any length of time and it's a good bet that you'll hear a player describe the league as a business. Deltha O'Nealhas been around for nine years so it wasn't surprising to hear the cornerback talking in those terms on Wednesday.
"Not at all. It was a shocker to me," O'Neal said when asked if he saw his release in Cincinnati coming. "But that's the politics and the business of the game. As a player you're going to have to go through stuff like that and you have to move on."
"It was like Hurricane Katrina came in. I had family out there and I wasn't expecting this. It was on the fly, I had to fly out and leave my family behind. It's tough, especially for my little girls because they won't get to see their daddy all year. My girl just started school so she's not coming out here. Other than that, I just knew it was part of the game. Being the vet that I am I've seen people come and go and I just had to prepare myself."
After a whirlwind weekend that saw him subsequently arrive in New England two days after the Bengals cut him loose, O'Neal said he was excited to be a part of such a respected organization and couldn't wait to don the Patriots uniform for the first time.
The question now is: When will that be?
O'Neal met with the media on Wednesday before joining the rest of his teammates at practice. He said he was focusing on learning as much as he can about the Patriots defense and preparing himself to play in the opener against Kansas City.
Thus far that has included plenty of study time with secondary coach Dom Capers. He's also been seeking help from his teammates, young and old, in an effort to get up to speed in time for the Chiefs game.
"As far as learning the defense I'm still asking questions like I'm a rookie," O'Neal said. "We haveLewis Sandersand **Ellis Hobbs *and they've been in the game for a while and they know what to do. As far as the younger guys, just be patient and get ready for your turn because anything can happen. You're one play away from being a starter. Just prepare yourself. That's the only thing I could tell them.
"I'm still learning. It's more veteran guys around the defense than in Cincinnati. It's going to be fun. I'm happy to be here and be a part of something like this. I've been excited since Sunday. You see me at home walking around I've got a big cheesy grin on my face that I'm happy to be here. I just can't explain my words right now. I'm just getting ready like I will be playing this weekend and preparing myself."
He'll no doubt continue to lean on Rodney Harrisonin particular. It was past talks with Harrison that convinced O'Neal that New England was a good place to be. O'Neal said it wasn't anything that Harrison said recently that sold him on the Patriots but rather the impression the safety has given him in the past that the team has a good defense and O'Neal would love to be a part of it.
"Over the course of my career I've spoken to Rodney plenty of times," O'Neal said. "I spoke to Rodney before he left San Diego and before he got here. He was going to stop in Denver – I could have had Rodney and Kenoy Kennedyback there but he ended up here, which was a great thing.
"I played with him in the Pro Bowl in '01 and I just love what he brings to the table. He's intelligent and physical and talented and you'd love as a corner to have a guy like that next to you."
During his days in Denver, O'Neal victimized Tom Bradytwice during a disastrous fourth quarter that saw the Patriots quarterback toss the first four interceptions of his career way back in 2001. Despite the past success, O'Neal said he hadn't received any good-natured ribbing from Brady.
"Not yet. Playing against him he would always talk to me as the play's going on," O'Neal said. "He'd throw a ball to my side and wink at me. I've known about Tom since he was in high school growing up in the Bay Area. I played with him at the East-West Shrine Game our last year in college. I'm happy to be part of a team with him."
The Patriots practiced on the lower field behind Gillette Stadium and Brady was once again present and accounted for. He took part in the pre-practice routine, running through and over the pads and working on his three-step drops while throwing to stationary targets. He did not appear to be hindered much in his movements. Also, safety Brandon Meriweatherwas back in uniform for the first time since suffering a leg injury early in New England's 27-10 preseason loss at Tampa Bay Aug. 17. Meriweather indicated that he expects to play on Sunday.
Five players were not in uniform for practice, most notably tight end Benjamin Watson. The others included Kevin Faulk(suspension), center Dan Connolly, wide receiver Sam Aiken and defensive lineman *Le Kevin Smith.
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Bill Belichick opened his press conference by explaining the players had Tuesday off while the coaching staff had time to break down the practice tape from Monday. Belichick said much of Monday was devoted to various roster maneuverings and with that behind them the primary focus was now on the Chiefs. "I'm not saying there won't be any more roster moves during the rest of the week, but yesterday gave us a good chance to get zeroed in on exactly what we want to do with Kansas City here the next three days," the coach said.
Belichick was asked if he felt there were any keys for a team repeating its past success and offered an interesting look at the situation.
"Each year, each team. Each game is its own experience," Belichick said. "You better be playing better than the other team you're playing, whoever that is. Last year is last year. We're a different team this year and so is everybody else in the league. I think everybody is trying to find what their own comfort level is in a new season. Certainly our team is. You're trying to get to the point where you see what you have when teams start game planning you, throwing their butcher knives at you and seeing which ones you can handle and which ones you can't. How are you going to do it? I think that's a process you have to go through every year."