The Patriots held their final practice Thursday in preparation for Saturday's preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, a light two-hour session in shells and shorts on the practice fields adjacent to Gillette Stadium. The coaching staff will spend Friday and Saturday determining who will play and what the expected player rotations will be for the second preseason game.
Although nothing is set in stone, head coach Bill Belichick said Thursday he expects starting offensive tackles Matt Light and Tom Ashworth to play against the Bengals. Light returned to practice Sunday after missing the first 18 practices of training camp while recovering from an offseason appendectomy. Ashworth, recovering from a back injury, returned the following day. Both have been taking repetitions with the first team offensive line this week in practice.
"Yes, I think [Light] has a better shot this weekend," Belichick said. "Hopefully he'll get a little playing time. He looks like a lot of those guys look, like Ashworth, like [Benjamin] Watson and all them, like everyone has been practicing and they haven't. They've got a ways to go. They're making progress, but they're behind."
Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin is also expected to see more time against the Bengals than he did in the pre-season opener. Colvin, who has been practicing daily, saw limited action in the first quarter against the Eagles last week.
"I think Rosie has had a good week of practice," Belichick said. "I think he's further along than he was last week."
The decision on whether Watson will play hasn't been clearly defined. Watson, the team's second first-round pick who missed the first 18 days of camp in a contract dispute, has only been practicing with the team since Monday. Because the team isn't forced to declare inactive players during the preseason, the decision on whether to play Watson could come down to pre-game warm-ups.
"I told him that he should prepare for that because I don't want him to think he's not going to play, and then we play him," Belichick said. "We'll probably try to define it a little bit more the day before the game just from a coaching standpoint so we know how the substitutions are going to go and all that. He has a long way to go. He has a lot of catching up to do. So he'll prepare for it, and ultimately that will be our decision, coaching decision, as to whether we think he's ready to go or not. We want him to try to work toward that point."
All Troy Brown, All the Time
Expect Troy Brown to continue his work as a three-phase player for the Patriots during the preseason. In addition to his duties at wide receiver and punt returner, the 12-year veteran has been practicing daily as a slot cornerback in the nickel defense, and saw a handful of plays there against Philadelphia. He even saw a few reps at the up back on the Patriots punt team during practice Wednesday.
While the question that remains about how much this "contingency" plan will continue into the regular season, Belichick said Thursday that Brown will continue to practice on defense, although his playing time there during the remaining preseason games won't be extensive.
"I'm sure you'll see him out there on defense at some point in the remaining preseason games," Belichick said. "How much, or when that will be – at some point we'll probably not do it just so we go into a game where that's not something that you have to prepare for. Again, this is more of an emergency or a contingency for us than it is something that we want to go into the season saying 'Well, we're going to do this a lot. We really have to spend a lot of time getting this ready.' We want to have it to the point where if we need it, we can do it. Hopefully the team's performance will still be able to stay at a good level. That's what we're looking for. Will you see him? Yes. How much or will it be every game? It won't be every game probably, it will just be sporadically."
Veteran Johnson Remains Confident
Veteran linebacker Ted Johnson practiced for the second consecutive day Thursday after missing over two weeks of training camp. Johnson, entering his 10th season with the Patriots, admits he thinks about his football future but remains confident about his abilities despite his lack of practice time during camp.
"I guess I just know what I can do," Johnson said. "I'm still here. There's a reason I'm still here after 10 years. There's a reason why they signed me to a new deal last year. So I must be doing something right. That's all I can worry about. Do I feel secure? Yeah I feel secure. But it's a league of youth, there's new guys coming in and out. But it's out of my control so I try not to worry about it."
Eleven players did not participate in practice Thursday: QBs Tom Brady and Jim Miller, WRs Troy Brown and P.K. Sam, CB Christian Morton, DB Je'Rod Cherry, RB Cedric Cobbs, TE Andy Mignery, LBs Mike Vrabel and Matt Chatham and DL Dana Stubblefield. P/K Cody Scates returned after missing nine practices.
QB Rohan Davey took reps with the first team in place of Brady. Brady said the fact he didn't practice has no bearing on Saturday's game. "I'm playing," he said. "If it were up to me I would play the whole game. But I don't think coach is going to let me." … Starting CB Ty Law, noticeably absent from practice the last two days, returned to practice Thursday. He practiced in his usual spot with the first team defense opposite Tyrone Poole. Cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Randall Gay worked with the second group of defensive backs… WR J.J. Stokes, on the proverbial bubble to make the final roster, stretched out to make a nice reception on a high pass in the back of the end zone. … Rookie TE Joel Jacobs and an unidentified defensive player got into a brief skirmish in the end zone before a mass of players created a scrum. It was Jacobs second day in camp. … LB Don Davis left the field during practice. … RB Kevin Faulk, WR Ricky Bryant and CB Terrell Buckley returned punts. … Sounds from the first day of the Vans Warp Tour could be heard from the adjacent Gillette Stadium parking lot throughout the practice session.