Foxborough, Mass. - With a match up against the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL's highest-scoring offense three days away, the Patriots continued adding pieces to the defensive puzzle Thursday. The Patriots announced the signing of former sixth-round pick Antwan Harris today, two days after adding free agent cornerback Hank Poteat to the active roster.
The signing of Harris, a safety, and Poteat, signal the level of the Patriots preparations as they add extra defensive backs in anticipation of matching up with the Colts in Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff game. Indianapolis led the NFL in points (522) and passing yardage this season (4,623), and feature a trio of 1,000 -yard receivers in Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley as targets for NFL MVP Peyton Manning. The Patriots now have nine defensive backs on the active roster, not including linebacker Don Davis and receiver Troy Brown, who have both played significantly in the secondary the second half of the season.
Harris has the benefit of having familiarity with the Patriots system, playing all 52 of his career games in New England after he was the 189th player chosen in the 2000 NFL Draft. He made two starts in four seasons with the Patriots, playing both safety and cornerback, while also contributing on special teams. His signing brings the Patriots up to the 53-man roster limit.
Poteat, who has played in 42 career games since he was a third-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2000 draft, will have less than a week to indoctrinate himself into the Patriots system. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said the 27-year-old has spent extra meeting time with coaches and on the practice field this week.
"He's behind other people who have been here longer, but that's where we're at," Belichick said. "That's the situation we have, and we'll make that evaluation at the end of the week, what he's able to do or whether he's active or what his role is."
Poteat was in the locker room Thursday for the first time this week, reflecting on the opportunity to join a team during the playoffs.
"You always have to go into a situation positive," Poteat said. "I'm ready to go. You just have to continue to ask questions, continue to watch film, and just go out there and work with eagerness and just be ready to play."
Poteat has been working with a close friend who is a personal trainer during the season since he was released by the Carolina Panthers after playing in two preseason games. He joins rookie Randall Gay, Earthwind Moreland and second-year players Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson at cornerback in practice this week as the Patriots play without injured starters Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, both on injured reserve.
"Basically, I'm going what everyone else is doing," said Poteat, who noted he has played in similar defensive systems. "It's not like I'm a rookie, so I kind of understand basically the system and how to prepare for games, so it's not really to hard to adjust."
One area Poteat may be able to contribute to the Patriots is on punt returns. The Patriots may be without running back Kevin Faulk, who is listed as questionable and reportedly suffered a sprained MCL against Miami on Dec. 20 that caused him to miss the final two games of the season. Faulk was the team's primary punt returner in nine games, leading the team with 20 returns and 14 fair catches, while Troy Brown fielded 15 kicks in the role. Wide receiver and kick returner Bethel Johnson had one amounted to a one-game tryout there in the season finale against San Francisco, returning four punts for eight yards, including an 86-yard touchdown return that was called back by penalty.
"Definitely, wherever they need me," Poteat said about returning kicks. "I'm going in with the attitude that I can help them. I just stay positive. I definitely feel like I can help them in the return game if they need me."
The Patriots placed rookie linebacker Eric Alexander on the injured reserve to make room on the 53-man active roster for Harris. Alexander, mainly a special teams player since he was signed off the Patriots practice squad on Dec. 20, has been wearing a walking boot on his right foot this week and was listed as questionable on the injury report with an ankle injury. Alexander, 22, was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana State University during the offseason.
Thursday Roundup: Bill Belichick
Belichick held his usual 10:45 a.m. press conference Thursday before another capacity crowd in the Gillette Stadium media workroom, the final time he will speak with reporters this week. Belichick touched on a number of topics, including coaching in the playoffs; the differences of post-season football; the Colts' offensive line and his relationship with coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Here is a recap:
- He said the Patriots are still going through preparations for Sunday's game. "We still have some things to do preparation-wise, some situations to cover and some things that are still left to tightened up. We budgeted the time and instillation to go all the way through the week. We're not there yet, but hopefully we will be on Sunday."
- He noted that very little can be done to prepare younger players for the intensity that comes in the NFL playoffs, likening it to what rookies experience in their first training camp. "I think you can talk to them about it. I think the veteran players talk to them about it. But until they actually experience it, I don't think they can fully understand it or appreciate it."
- He was asked about quarterback Tom Brady, who will be starting his seventh career playoff game on Sunday. "He's done an awesome job at everything we ask him to do. He's there for us at every single time we ask him to do something. He not only does it, but does it at a high level and very consistently. That goes from the first day of the offseason program to the last day of the regular season. I don't think you could ask anything more of a person than that."
- When asked about the Patriots playing the role of underdogs, Belichick said he places little importance on predictions and prognostications. "I don't really care about any of that. It doesn't make any difference to me what somebody else thinks about the game. I think what's important is what we think about it and what we're able to go out there and do about it. When the ball is kicked off at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, it will come down to which team plays better for the next 60 minutes. That's really the only thing that matters. I don't think it really matters what anybody else's predictions are or what their expectations are."
The Patriots signed free agent tight end Mike Solwold to the practice squad today and released running back Kory Chapman. Solwold, 27, has played in 13 career games with Dallas (2001), Tampa Bay (2002) and most recently Baltimore (2003-04). The fourth-year player, who appeared in one game for the Ravens earlier this season, is predominantly a long-snapper. He will wear No. 43 with the Patriots. ... There will be no media access to Belichick or the Patriots players on Friday or Saturday. ... By all appearances, the Patriots held an outdoor practice Thursday as players left the locker room in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) and a variety of parkas, hooded sweatshirts and even face masks. ... Defensive end Richard Seymour was not present in the locker room during the media access period for the fourth straight day this week. Belichick was asked if he could update Seymour's status. "Nope. It is what it is." ... Linebackers Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin and Ted Johnson, along with Wilson, Brown, running back Patrick Pass and safetiy Rodney Harrison, talked with large groups of reporters Thursday. ... Several players acknowledged the heightened sense of intensity that comes along with the NFL playoffs, which extends to additional media in the locker room. "It's a big game. And you can always tell big games by the amount of cameras in the locker room," Vrabel said. ... Reserve quarterback Jim Miller has been playing the role of Manning for the Patriots scout team this week in practice. Miller, who signed prior to training camp and was the third quarterback for all 16 games in his 11th season, said he wants to play next season and would welcome a return to the Patriots.