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Belichick, Patriots go in motion

Cutdown day produces ramped-up maneuvering

BILL BELICHICKGood time to act BILL BELICHICKGood time to act
By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / September 3, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - Since cutdown day Saturday, the Patriots roster has been in a state of perpetual motion, with players like veteran safety John Lynch and young receiver Chad Jackson going and veteran cornerback Deltha O'Neal and young offensive tackle Mark LeVoir and tight end Jason Pociask coming.

The Patriots didn't announce any roster moves yesterday, but coach Bill Belichick wouldn't rule out further reshaping before the team opens the season against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium Sunday.

"I don't think it would be fair to say that there won't be any more. There definitely could be," said Belichick. "There are a number of things that we are still looking at and talking about. Whether some of those will actually happen or not, I am not sure.

"Again, our main focus is getting ready for Kansas City, but we do want to have the best possible roster we can put together both this week and for the long term. Those are considerations [vice president of player personnel] Scott [Pioli] and our scouts are continuing to go through on the waiver wire and taking a close look at some of the players who are available."

NFL rosters are volatile this time of year because there are so many players out on the market. All 32 teams have had to cut down from a maximum of 75 players to a maximum of 53 - not including roster exemptions like the one the Patriots got for Kevin Faulk because of his one-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. That leaves a pool of 600-plus players to pick from. So the Patriots tinkering with the roster is not necessarily a sign of panic after an 0-4 preseason, but due diligence to make sure no opportunity to improve is left unexplored.

Belichick compared the aftermath of the cuts to a mini-draft, a compressed period of player evaluations.

"You are kind of going through a lot of people and are trying to put a team together to play in a week," said Belichick. "At the same time, this is the best time of year to get players other than the draft because they are all available."

Belichick and Pioli pounced on O'Neal after the veteran cornerback was released by the Bengals Saturday and cleared waivers. While it may have been a surprise to some that the two-time Pro Bowler was available, the Patriots had built some flexibility into their roster in case O'Neal was free. That's part of the game this time of year - evaluating other teams' rosters.

"I don't think there was anybody on there that we had any interest in that was a real surprise that they were on [the waiver wire]," said Belichick. "I'm not saying that we cut everyone else's team. I don't mean it that way.

"But I am saying the group of people that it came from was pretty much the group of people we had scouted, that we had tapes on, so when those players were cut or even before they were cut, we started looking at them to see what interest we had in those players if they were available."

If you think the Patriots have been more active with the roster this year than last, you're right. Since training camp began July 24, they have made 10 moves that involved signing veteran players or claiming young players like Pociask, who was cut by the New York Jets, and LeVoir, who was cut by the St. Louis Rams.

Last year, the Patriots made only four moves from the start of training camp to the season opener, a pair of waiver claims and two veteran signings, including punter Chris Hanson. Some of this year's activity, particularly on the offensive line, was dictated by injuries.

But players who wake up on the roster today thinking they've made the team could be out of a job by dinnertime. Few would have predicted that Lynch and veteran cornerback Fernando Bryant would be among those the Patriots released.

"Yeah, you can't play football forever. That's why I think guys like Rodney Harrison and me, we congratulate each other," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who is embarking upon his 13th NFL season. "There is still something to be said that you've made an NFL team no matter what year it is."

The here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of the team this time of year is just part of the reality of pro football. Today's O'Neal could be tomorrow's Bryant.

"It's part of the territory. Every team goes through it," said linebacker Adalius Thomas. "You get used to it. After nine years of doing it, you kind of get used to people being in and out of here. All 32 teams are going through it."

Chances are, Belichick and Pioli aren't done plucking from the list of available players who either cleared waivers or are floating on the waiver wire.

"There were an awful lot of names there last week, and there are still a few more coming on there each day as teams adjust their rosters," said Belichick. "There is some juggling going on. Whether we will make moves based on that or not, I am not sure. But we are definitely looking at it. If we can help the team, we will make it."

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

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