One man's trash, as they say, is another man's treasure. Or, if you are a Dead Head, one man gathers what another man spills.
The Patriots wrap up their preseason schedule Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium in what amounts to little more than a cameo appearance for starters on both sides of the ball. The starting players and top reserves played through three full quarters against the Carolina Panthers in the third preseason game Saturday, meaning just a few series against the Jaguars will serve as the final tune up for the regular season.
This game holds much different meaning for the group of players who have no guarantee of employment next week. While Thursday's finale isn't an end all in terms of evaluation, it is the culmination of a longer evaluation process. Head coach Bill Belichick didn't rule out that Thursday's game could have an impact for many fringe players. Essentially, players could have the opportunity to play themselves on or off the roster.
"That depends on where he is," Belichick said. "If it is close enough I think he could. If there has already been a pretty clear-cut establishment of that player's performance, then it would probably take a lot to swing him one way or another."
The Patriots active roster sits at 74 players, including nine NFL Europe exemptions, following yesterday's first round of roster cuts. The next cut-down to the final 53-man roster is due by 4 p.m. on Sunday, giving the coaching staff less than three days to determine the makeup of the roster, the eight-man practice squad and which players find their way onto various inactive lists. The decisions being made the rest of this week will ultimately affect the livelihoods of around 13 players currently with the team.
Belichick was quick to point out this week that following the initial round of roster cuts, nearly every player on the roster is competing for some type of spot.
"I think everybody that is here is in competition for some type of spot on our roster, whether that is a 53-man spot, whether that is a practice squad spot, whether it is somebody we would want to come back to in an emergency situation," Belichick said. "So, I think everybody is in the mix for some type of, at some point, some type of roster spot. And that would include even a couple of people that have already been released."
An exact guess as to the expected player rotations against Jacksonville is difficult unless you're Belichick. It's a guess that the starting teams will be two or three series. They would be followed by the second units, who could see action through the rest of the first half. That group would start the second half, with the fourth quarter likely being used for those fighting for roster spots.
"It would vary from player to player, from group to group," Belichick said. "We're going to play players that, I feel like some players need more playing time than others in this game, and we'll try to distribute that accordingly and evaluate what we see. There are different cases. Some guys are coming back and haven't played in awhile. Other guys have played a lot, and they've been out there for every practice and every preseason game and they've done a lot. You have guys in different scenarios, and I don't think we can just sit there and say this is what it is for everybody because it's not all the same."
With those words in mind, lets take a look at a group of seven players to whom Thursday's game will take on particular significance:
Rohan Davey, quarterback – Some may disagree, but Davey doesn't look to be in danger of being cut. This game is more important for Davey in terms of progress. He had two mostly shaky games to start the preseason and didn't play against Carolina, so this will be his last chance to shine. Belichick said he would see extensive time.
Randall Gay, cornerback – An undrafted rookie free agent, Gay was terrific early in training camp before he missed time with a minor injury. He was solid against Carolina, and is in competition with seventh-round pick Christian Morton and Earthwind Moreland behind veterans Ty Law, Tyrone Poole, Terrell Buckley and Asante Samuel.
Chas Gessner, wide receiver – He has just four receptions during the preseason, but was the benefactor of injuries to Troy Brown and David Givens, seeing plenty of action against Carolina. Ignoring injuries, he's a leading candidate if the Patriots keep six receivers. He's battling rookies Ricky Bryant and Michael Jennings.
Bob Hallen, guard/center – The six-year veteran was brought in as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason to bring experience to the interior line. He can play both guard and center, adding to his value. While he looked to be a lock early on, the competition along the line has intensified.
Ethan Kelley, defensive tackle – A seventh-round pick in 2003, Kelly spent the entire season on the practice squad. He hasn't been completely invisible during the preseason, but is clearly behind veteran Keith Traylor and rookie Vince Wilfork. He could be caught in a numbers game along the line, so it will be up to him to force the issue.
Justin Kurpeikis, linebacker – Brought in as a free agent early in the offseason, Kurpeikis has shown enough that he's in the mix at the deepest position. He had a game-high nine tackles in the preseason opener, but with at least eight veterans likely to stick, the opportunities here are slim.
Stephen Neal, guard – Neal saw substantial playing time against Carolina at right guard, with veteran Joe Andruzzi shifting to the left side. He may be somewhat limited in that he only plays one position. He has been on the injured reserve the last two seasons, which could make this his last crack at the roster.