The Patriots closed out the preseason with a 17-12 victory over the New York Giants Thursday night behind contributions from a host of young players looking to find their way onto NFL rosters. Bill Belichick talked about the impending roster cuts that will take place this weekend during his conference call Friday morning, and as is the case every year he expects a lot of movement to take place throughout the opening month of the season.
"There are always some situations that are more clear cut than others," Belichick said. "The more information you have the more confident you are that you're making the right decision. It's always a combination of those things and we'll do the best we can and see how it goes.
"There are a lot of things that factor into [roster decisions] that fall under the total category of team building. As we all know there's a lot of roster adjustment in the first month of the season, on our team and throughout the league. That's the same way it is every year and I doubt it would be any different this year."
The battles for roster spots and how the young players factor into those dominated the discussion, which also included thoughts on Cyrus Jones, the backup offensive linemen and J.C. Jackson improvement.
Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, Belichick's mentioning of watermelon rolls earlier in the week was not related to the famous desert by Friendly's but instead referenced actual watermelon roll races – so we can all rest easy with that knowledge.
Anyway, here are some highlights from Belichick's briefing.
Hoping for more returns – While Belichick agreed that Cyrus Jones had regained his explosiveness after coming off a torn ACL, the coach lamented that the third-year corner hasn't had more opportunities to showcase it in the return game. He returned three punts for 10 yards against the Giants and was unable to attempt one on kickoffs as all three went for touchbacks.
"I wish in these last few games we could have had an opportunity to get him started in the return game," Belichick said. "We didn't have much yesterday and we didn't block well enough on the returns that he did get. I thought he handled the ball well in some fairly challenging situations. He did a fine job with that but we just really didn't get a chance to get him started. But that's the way it goes."
Depth in the trenches – With rookie first-round pick Isaiah Wynn headed to IR with a torn Achilles, an additional opportunity has opened for a spot for a backup offensive lineman that may have not otherwise existed. Based on Ulrick John's work in Carolina as the first backup in the game early, it appeared he may have had an inside track.
That line of thought was strengthened in New York when he took reps early at both guard and tackle, which seemed like a logical course for Belichick to take in an effort to see if the veteran had some position versatility to his game. But John went down with an injury on the third series, and while there has been no official word he was seen in a walking boot after the game.
With or without John, the fights for the final spots will be some of Belichick's toughest decisions.
"We got a look at a lot of players and that in combination with other opportunities we've had to evaluate them im practice and earlier in the preseason we'll try to put all of that together and make the best decisions we can for the football team," he said. "It will be challenging, as it always is, to set the final roster and that will be one of the positions that will be a little more difficult."
Positive turn – Rookie J.C. Jackson had his ups and downs in the finale against the Giants, picking off a pair of passes while also surrendering a couple of big plays including a 41-yard touchdown.
Belichick had some praise for the undrafted corner out of Maryland, as well as all of the young defensive backs, for their ability to accept coaching and improve on some earlier mistakes.
"He did do a good job of [turning his head] and I think overall our defensive backs with Josh Boyer, Coach [Brian] Flores and Steve [Belichick] did a good job during the course of the week after the interference penalties we had during the Philly and Carolina games," Belichick said. "We addressed that not just with Keion [Crossen], who was involved in some of those plays but all the other players.
"We've worked very hard the last couple of weeks to talk about those techniques to play the receiver and the ball down the field. He took the coaching and turned them into productive plays in the game. Our whole group has shown improvement on that."