After making it through all three weeks of training camp relatively unscathed, the New England Patriots are feeling the effects of their first major injury. Rookie safety Guss Scott was placed on the injured reserve Tuesday and will miss the entire season after suffering a knee injury in Saturday's preseason loss at Cincinnati.
"He'll be out for the year, which is obviously disappointing for all of us, but especially for Guss, who has worked really hard," Head coach Bill Belichick said in a press conference.
Scott, the team's third-round draft choice, was injured covering a kickoff in the second half of the 31-3 loss. He had a solid training camp and had been working alongside fellow rookie safety Dexter Reid with the second unit defense.
"He was drafted in the third round so he could come in and contribute right away, and he was working very hard, learning the system, getting acclimated to everything," veteran safety Rodney Harrison said. "He was playing well. You need depth at the safety position, which was evident by what happened in the Super Bowl with us. Guss was one of those guys, eventually, you know he could start and you know he could be a pretty good player in this league. So to have him go down – for him, I feel bad personally because he's a young guy and you don't ever want to start off your career like that."
The injury deals a serious blow to the Patriots secondary, where depth at safety has been a concern since last season. Behind Harrison and second-year player Eugene Wilson, a converted cornerback, the team invested draft picks in Reid and Scott in hopes one or both would eventually provide reliable depth at the position. That depth will now have to come from elsewhere. Veteran Je'Rod Cherry and second-year players Shawn Mayer and Scott Farley are the other safeties currently on the roster. None of the players behind Harrison and Wilson have started an NFL game.
Belichick, who described Reid as a "smart kid," said the fourth-round pick has begun to establish a role on special teams. Because of the injury, his progress through the preseason now becomes even more imperative.
"I think he has done a pretty solid job in the kicking game as a coverage player and also a little bit in the return game on the blocking aspect of it," Belichick said. "It will be interesting to see how [the rookies] do as we move forward here in the competition. Sometimes that first game those guys can go out and surprise some people and look good and that is great. Sometimes it continues and sometimes it doesn't."
The Patriots cut ties with another veteran Tuesday, releasing fullback Fred McCrary. The seven-year veteran was originally signed by the Patriots before last season, only to be released in October and then re-signed a week later. He played in six games before he was placed on the injured reserve in November with a leg injury to end his season.
Belichick left the proverbial door open regarding any potential reunion with McCrary.
"I think that Fred and I, when we talked about it, I think we both felt that was the best thing to do at this time," Belichick said. "There is still some time to go. I'm certainly not closing the door on anything here. At the same time, it's tight. I think we both felt, and I don't want to speak for him, but generally we both felt it was probably the right thing to do at this point in time. Things could always change, and they could change quickly. I don't in any way feel like this is necessarily a position that could never be changed."
McCrary was used sparingly during the first two preseason games, and it's likely the Patriots will go without a true fullback on the roster to start the season. Instead, expect to see different combinations of running back Patrick Pass, linebacker Dan Klecko and tight ends Christian Fauria, Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson assume the duties typically reserved for a fullback.
"Fred was a teammate of mine for a number of years," Harrison said. "To see him go, it's disappointing. It's frustrating to me because he's a close friend of mine. I'm the Godfather of his son. It's disappointing, but Fred understands it's a business. It's better now than later. So now at least he has an opportunity, he can go shop around and hopefully he can get picked up by someone, which I think he will."
Rest assured that much of the talk this week will center on Saturday's third preseason game, the rematch of last year's Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers. Belichick paid his first respect of the week to Carolina.
"We all know what type of team Carolina is," Belichick said. "No one has more respect for them than we do. Going down to play them in their place Saturday night should be a real good test for us. I'm sure the environment will be hostile."
Harrison, for one, had a different perspective on the importance of a preseason game.
"It's preseason to you, but it's not preseason to us," he said. "We risk our lives and our bodies and everything else for one game. Guys lose their jobs, guys gain jobs, all over one game. It's not anything that we're looking at as a preseason game. They're gunning for us. They're going to be excited; they're going to by hyped. You do your talking on the field, and we're just excited for the opportunity."
They Said It
"If you're asking me if there is any aspect of the game that I'm happy with, the answer is no. If you're asking me if I think every game is going to be like that and we're going to get beat 60-0 every week, I hope not. We'll find out where we are. Am I concerned about it? Yeah, after watching that I can't imagine how you could not be concerned about it," – Belichick on his concerns following the last game.
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