|Pats face Giants with strong running backs|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 26 August 2008 14:32|
So improvement is more important than the identity of that opponent - the team that beat them in the Super Bowl.
``We really don't care,'' third-down back Kevin Faulk said Tuesday. ``The thing that we care about right now is getting our team better. If you watched our first three preseason games, there's a lot of work we have to do.''
Hoping to avoid a winless exhibition season, New England visits the New York Giants on Thursday night. Then coach Bill Belichick will have less than 48 hours before the 4 p.m. deadline on Saturday to decide which players to cut to get down to the regular-season limit of 53 players.
``Whether it's your second year in the league or 12th year in the league, it's a pretty somber day,'' running back Sammy Morris said, ``just in the sense of guys that are potentially losing their jobs. Typically, it's kind of weird.''
The Patriots reached the 75-player limit by Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline by placing starting guard Stephen Neal on the physically-unable-to-perform reserve list, sidelining him for at least six weeks, and backup tackle Ryan O'Callaghan on the injured reserve list, ending his season, and releasing fullback Kyle Eckel, cornerback Jason Webster and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell.
Laurence Maroney, the team's top rusher last season, and Faulk, are virtual locks to make the 53-man roster. Morris, who missed the last 10 games last season with a chest injury, and LaMont Jordan, signed July 26 after being released by Oakland, also have a solid chance to stick.
Fullback Heath Evans, a strong special teams player, is highly regarded by Belichick. The coach even praised Benjarvus Green-Ellis, an undrafted rookie free agent running back.
Green-Ellis appears to be a longshot but the other five all could be on the opening day roster.
``I don't think that the players at the same position are necessarily in competition with each other,'' Belichick said. ``We want to keep the best players and that may be a balanced roster or not. It may include a few more players at one position and a few less at another.
``All of our running backs have been productive.''
Jordan, entering his eighth season, had a strong opening game. He rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in New England's 16-15 loss to Baltimore, missed the next two games with an undisclosed injury but said Tuesday he had no restrictions in practice.
``I know the backfield is crowded but I've also said I know what I'm capable of doing,'' he said. ``Unfortunately, I had this setback with the injury this past couple of weeks. But once they make their decision what they're going to do, if I'm here it's just up to me to make sure that come Sunday I'm at my best.''
Morris also had played seven seasons when the Patriots signed him on March 3, 2007. He rushed for 384 yards and three touchdowns in six games before going on injured reserve but said Tuesday he's fully recovered.
With so many running backs carrying the ball in exhibition games, it can be difficult to get into a rhythm.
``A lot of it is established in practice,'' Morris said. ``I guess, especially in preseason, we actually get more reps or more carries than we do in the actual game. I think it puts the onus a little more individually to go out and execute with the limited amount of actual game reps.''
Maroney, more elusive than Jordan and Morris, is in his third season. Faulk's 323 receptions in his eight years are the most by a running back in club history.
``We probably have one of the deepest backfields in the league,'' Jordan said. ``The thing about us is that we all bring something different to the table, which gives the defense a different look.''
With Tom Brady throwing an NFL-record 50 passes last season, the Patriots led the league in overall offense and yards passing. They were 13th in rushing.
They have plenty of options to improve their ground game. By Saturday afternoon, Belichick must decide how many of those options will still be with the team. He also must decide who to keep at other positions. Many decisions have been made and those still trying to impress him will have one last chance Thursday night.
``If you are running a race with a guy and he is a lap ahead of you and you have a strong finish, you are still going to finish behind him,'' Belichick said. ``If you are neck and neck with the guy and you have a strong finish then you beat him and it makes a lot of difference.
``So, it would depend on what the relationship of the competition (is) at this point for how much the last game means.''