The Patriots started getting down to their 53-man active roster limit – deadline Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern – by letting go of eight players on Friday: three veterans (LB Ricky Brown, OL Jonathan Compas, and DL Darryl Richard), a pair of first-year players (TE Carson Butler and WR Buddy Farnham), and a trio of rookie free agents (OL Mike Berry, RB Richard Medlin, and OL Corey Woods).
These initial cuts, from 80 to 72, came less than 24 hours after the team's preseason finale against the New York Giants, an 18-17 loss at Gillette Stadium last night.
"We went to the film this morning and made a handful of roster moves here and we'll try to spend the afternoon and tonight and tomorrow figuring where the rest of it lies," head coach Bill Belichick said via conference call this afternoon.
Once New England gets down to 53 players this weekend, they'll then be able to sign eight additional players to their practice squad. At that point, the Patriots can begin in earnest to prepare for their regular season opener, the first half of a Sept. 12 Monday night double-header against the Miami Dolphins.
"I met with the team this afternoon," Belichick continued, "and I think everybody's definitely ready to put all this behind us and start moving ahead to Monday night in Miami, a division game on the road. It doesn't get much bigger than that, so we have a lot of big challenges ahead of us."
Belichick called the axing of players "the worst part" of a coach's job. No major surprises among these early cuts, but trying to gauge if there might be based on what took place Thursday night could be difficult. For example, should we read anything into safety Brandon Meriweather not seeing action until late in the game?
"He was on the field in the beginning of the game last week," Belichick remarked, "so, we mixed our rotations up like we usually do. That's how it went.
"Brandon has been out there every day [this preseason]. He's worked hard. He's been able to do everything and I think he's gotten better, worked a lot on his man-to-man coverage. He's out there practicing like everybody else is."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but that's not necessarily a harbinger for Meriweather's future in New England, either. Such votes of confidence are rare on this team, particularly at this time of year.
Yet, Belichick was willing to praise another player who might be on the bubble, but has performed above most people's expectations this summer: jack-of-all-trades Matthew Slater, who has played in all three phases of the game since his rookie year in 2008.
"The more things a player can do and the more ways a player can contribute, the more value he has and Matthew's such a hard working player. Nobody outworks him. He's gotten better every single year and we've moved him around a little bit. We've played him at safety. We've played him at receiver. He's done some kickoff returns. He's been a short returner. He's been involved in all the other phases of the kicking game as well.
"But he keeps working hard," added Belichick. "He gets better and he's had a real good training camp. The versatility helps him and the fact that his performance has been good, that helps him too, so he's got some things going for him."
Another player for whom Belichick had positive things to say was Nate Solder. There's no doubt this year's first-round draft choice will make the final roster, but where the offensive lineman will play when he gets his chance – he's been exclusively a left tackle until last night – remains to be seen. Belichick had Solder start at right for the first time before moving him back to the left in the second stanza.
"Well if he's our third tackle, our swing tackle with [Matt] Light and [Sebastian] Vollmer, then that's what he's going to have to do," the head coach explained. "I thought he did some good things. I thought his run blocking was good. I thought his pass blocking was good. He had a couple plays that, like everybody, could have been a little better. But the kid's learned a lot. I think he's had a lot thrown at him in the last month. I think overall he's handled it very well, very maturely.
"His techniques improved. He's worked hard. He's a tough kid. This is part of the experience, playing on the other side [of the line] and then actually coming back to the left side in the second half. He got good work on both sides of the ball. I think all those snaps in the long run are just going to help."
So, now, the Patriots have 19 more moves to make, and it's probably safe to say that not all of them will be cuts. Several injured players may wind up on one list or another – injured reserve, PUP, or NFI – to begin the season (or end it prematurely), but the majority will more than likely be cuts. And as there always are, there are bound to be some we didn't see coming. Check back on the blog and follow Team PFW on Twitter throughout the weekend for the latest news and analysis of the final cuts before the regular season opens.