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Belichick likes his safety net

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots safety Eugene Wilson said that after going on injured reserve last year with a hamstring injury and playing in just four games, his main goal was to make it through all of camp without getting hurt. That goal has taken a hit.

Wilson was absent from the media portion of practice yesterday after he appeared to injure himself chasing Panthers wide receiver Keary Colbert on Colbert's 48-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter of New England's 24-7 victory Friday night. After the play, Wilson was replaced by James Sanders and Willie Andrews.

Coach Bill Belichick has spoken highly of Sanders, who recovered from a shaky start last season to become a steady presence, and yesterday he did the same of Andrews, a second-year player from Baylor who played primarily on special teams last year.

"I think he's made a big jump, both defensively and in the kicking game," said Belichick. "He has a full season under his belt and he has a lot more experience in our system than he had last year.

"That was a big jump coming from college, from Baylor, seeing the types of offenses that we see compared to what they saw in their league. Willie is a hard-working guy. He's been out there consistently. He's missed very little time since he's been here, so he continues to get better."

Andrews tied for the team lead in special teams tackles last year with 15 but saw limited action defensively. The Texas native, who has played cornerback and safety, plays bigger than his 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pound frame. Just ask Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme, whom Andrews leveled on a third-quarter blitz.

"He's a tough kid and he plays with, probably, a little better strength than some guys with that size," said Belichick, who said that in the Patriots system, the safeties have to be able to play both the free and strong spots.

Sanders and Andrews would be two options at safety if Wilson is out for any extended period, although first-round pick Brandon Meriweather and cornerback Randall Gay, who has experience there as well, could figure into the mix.

Nerve center
The Patriots must trim their roster to 75 by today and make the final cut to 53 by Saturday. That means some nervous moments for players like rookie linebacker Oscar Lua. The seventh-round pick from USC has played well in the preseason; he is tied for the team lead in tackles with 12 and has the team's only interception, which came Friday night. Still, Lua said it's a nerve-racking time. "There really is no comfort level because there have been plays out there where I know I could have done a better job or things that I should have done that I didn't do," he said. "As far as comfort, there is no comfort. You've just got to trust in your work ethic and whatever the coaches think about you, but I don't think there is real safety in this particular business for anybody."

Seau you later
Linebacker Junior Seau did not play in Friday's preseason victory over the Panthers and didn't even make the trip. Before participating in yesterday's full-pads practice, he explained his Friday absence: "Being part of the league for 18 years, you learn that you just do what you're told. That's exactly what we do as players. We have no control over that. We go in there and perform whenever we're asked to, and sit whenever we're asked to. Other than that, we hope that at the end of the day, we put wins in the column and go from there." The decision could have been tied to the Patriots wanting to take a closer look at younger inside linebackers like Lua and Eric Alexander. Seau indicated he's healthy. "I feel great," he said.

Ins and outs
Good news on the injury front: Tight end Kyle Brady was present in pads for the first time since the second day of camp, and receiver Jabar Gaffney, who sat out Friday's game after he was hurt during a loss to the Titans Aug. 17, was accounted for during the media portion of practice. Ty Warren (sprained elbow), who did not play against Carolina, was present for the second straight practice. Randy Moss still hasn't practiced since Aug. 1 because of a left hamstring injury. However, Belichick said on WEEI that Moss was "real close." Also out were cornerback Mike Richardson (arm), offensive lineman Russ Hochstein, safety Rashad Baker, running back Sammy Morris, and defensive end Mike Wright . . . At the team's Kickoff Gala last night, Warren was recognized as the Ron Burton Award winner for his charitable work and Stanley Morgan was honored for his induction into the team's Hall of Fame . . . Belichick said there are still spots to be won in the final preseason game Thursday at home against the Giants. "I think there are a number of questions that we can answer as a football team, a lot of different ways things could go," he said. "We have a lot of different roles on our team that need to be filled. They could come from a lot of different directions."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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