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Patriots preparing for the “real thing” against Bucs

Friday, August 24, 2012

 

Two down, two to go.

As in pre-season games. Or, if you look at it another way, the Patriots have two more games to play that won’t mean anything…but will also mean everything to a select few players.

With the regular season kickoff around the corner on September 9th, the Patriots will wrap up two days of joint practices with a game in Tampa against the Buccaneers Friday night. As is often the case, the third pre-season game is used as a “dress rehearsal” for the real thing – which in this case comes against the Tennessee Titans in a little more than two weeks.

So that means Tom Brady and Company are liable to see quite a bit of playing time. Good for them, not so good for some of the younger players who may be on the roster bubble. For them, time is running short.

“The goal is to be ready and prepared when we need to be,” Brady said from Tampa. “Coach (Bill) Belichick has been through this quite a bit and so have I, so I’m sure when the time comes to play, we’ll be as prepared as we can possibly be.”

I think we got a lot done and improved our team," Belichick remarked. "Saw a lot of things out there (against Tampa in practice) that we haven't seen, and of course, competing against another team is good for us.”

And as for the young guys? “Everything you ask of them, they‘ve done,” Vince Wilfork said after Thursday’s practice session. “We can’t ask anything more from them. All of them show signs that they can help this football team. That’s exactly what we want.”

Which will make the job of cutting the roster down to size at least as difficult as it’s been in recent memory. With 88 players currently on the team, the first cut down to 75 players comes by Monday at 4 pm…and the final paring to 53 players (of which only 46 can be active on Sundays) will follow just prior to the regular season opener.

There will be surprises – some not expected to make it will stick, others expected to stay…will leave.

“Me and Tom [Brady] were just talking about this game just a while ago – football isn’t meant for everybody to play,” WR Deion Branch told reporters via conference call. Branch is one of the veteran players who has been in a fight for his spot on the team during camp. “It’s a very mentally straining job as far as the game. Only certain guys are picked to play this game and the ones who are chosen, those are the ones that stand out.

“You have to stand strong through these times here,” Branch added.

And while he could be on the roster bubble himself, Branch says you just can’t think about holding onto a spot – like the media and fans might do. “Trust me I’m dead honest when I say this, I’ve gone into each training camp since my rookie season the same as I did this one: ready to compete and I came in prepared,” Branch explained. “Just doing everything the coaches ask of me, whether that be special teams, whatever, any position on the football field [and] making sure I know every receiver position. That’s our job and I honestly will say that has been the training throughout my entire 11 years.”

Branch’s time may or may not be running short, as it will be for some of the younger guys. A notable exception will probably come from newly-signed Jeff Demps, as the Olympic silver medalist sprinter will need time to return to football shape from his days playing at the University of Florida. Demps could certainly add an element of speed to the return game, and he should see time Friday night.

As will newcomers Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and veteran safety Steve Gregory, who all appear to be ready to assume roles as full-time contributors. But that’s down the road, perhaps. For now…there’s two down, and still two more to play. 

 

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