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Patriots release Walter

Quarterback among six cuts

Brian Hoyer appears to be the backup to Tom Brady. Brian Hoyer appears to be the backup to Tom Brady. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / September 5, 2009

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The Patriots decided to pass on Andrew Walter, releasing the veteran quarterback along with five other players yesterday, and leaving the team with only callow rookie QB Brian Hoyer behind Tom Brady heading into today, when NFL teams must finalize their 53-man rosters.

In addition to Walter, the Patriots released defensive back Roderick Rogers, defensive lineman Steve Williams, linebacker Vinny Ciurciu, wide receiver Robert Ortiz, and offensive lineman Billy Yates, who had been with the team since 2004 and started seven games last season at right guard.

Coach Bill Belichick continued the quarterback intrigue that started with the waiving of second-year signal-caller Kevin O’Connell on Monday, cutting loose Walter the day after Hoyer went the distance in the exhibition finale, a 38-27 victory over the New York Giants. Following the game, a peeved Walter, who had only played one series the previous week against Washington, said he was ready every week and that questions should be directed to those who played.

The coy coach wouldn’t rule out the Patriots starting the season with just Hoyer behind Brady, who dinged up his throwing shoulder against Washington last Friday and is coming back from reconstructive left knee surgery. Belichick, who has until 6 p.m. today to get from 66 players to 53, said standing pat at quarterback was “a possibility, not a certainty.’’

“That’s really a hard question to answer,’’ said Belichick. “We’ll have to wait and see what our different options are, not only what players are available in one way or another, but also how we want to manage our roster. There are so many moving parts to the process with positions and the overall makeup of the team and looking at the 45-man [gameday] active roster and the different players that might or might not be available throughout the league.’’

He did dismiss the idea that rookie wide receiver Julian Edelman, a college quarterback, was being factored into the mix.

Among the QB options the Patriots have are free agents Damon Huard, who was with the Patriots from 2001-03; Cleo Lemon, who worked out for the Patriots in August and was cut by the Ravens Tuesday; and Eagles reserve A.J. Feeley.

Feeley, who has had some of his best games against New England, is probably the Patriots’ best option. The 32-year-old is one of four quarterbacks on the Eagles’ roster, along with Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and Kevin Kolb, and he is not expected to stay in Philadelphia. The Eagles are shopping him.

The Patriots and Eagles could have a match because Philadelphia is thin at tight end and the Patriots are unlikely to keep all four of their tight ends, with Alex Smith and Benjamin Watson on the bubble. Belichick was asked if he’d been in contact with the Eagles and said he has conversations with every team this time of year.

Belichick didn’t go into detail as to why the big-armed Walter, picked up Aug. 3 after he was released by the Raiders July 30, didn’t work out. Walter only played in two exhibition games, including the cameo against Washington, and was 5 of 9 for 62 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

“I think Andrew had a lot of positives,’’ said Belichick. “We talked about those when we signed him. I still think they exist. It’s just again that we make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire football team and that’s what we’re going to do. There are a lot of players that we release that are talented players that have played in the league, will play in the league or will be competitive to play in the league. We can’t keep them all.’’

Belichick has other tough decisions to make. Does he find a spot for BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the fifth running back? Does wide receiver Terrence Nunn have more upside and roster flexibility than veteran Joey Galloway or Greg Lewis? Does Eric Alexander provide enough at linebacker to complement his special teams play?

There are a lot of variables in assembling a 53-man roster. As Belichick pointed out, it’s not as simple as comparing players at the same position. He said it’s a team-wide mosaic that has to come into focus.

“It’s a very inexact science and with 53 players, which is really only 45, you just can’t really have the depth that every coach would like to have,’’ said Belichick. “At some positions you have it, at other positions you don’t . . . It’s just not possible, so you pick and choose where you want to have it and the quality of it and then you go with it. If something happens, then you make adjustments along the way. We’re working our way through that process.’’

Besides the business of constructing a roster, Belichick said there is also the unpleasant business of having to send players such as Yates packing.

“It’s never easy,’’ he said. “This is probably the hardest couple of days of the year for all the coaches in the National Football League. You have to tell players that have been working hard that you’re going to have to release them. That’s a tough conversation to have. Billy has been one of our real solid guys here through the years, very dependable, very tough, comes to work every day, gives you 110 percent, really is a guy that every coach would love to have on his team.’’

The two players that helped their cause the most in Thursday night’s win over the Giants were Green-Ellis (29 rushes for 125 yards and three touchdowns) and Nunn (three catches for 64 yards and a 49-yard kickoff return). Belichick said the production and versatility of Green-Ellis stands out.

“When he has had a chance to play, he has been productive really in all phases of the game: as a runner, as a pass protector and a blocker, and as a pass catcher and a receiver,’’ said Belichick. “He brings that same athleticism and that same toughness to the kicking game and the coverage area and also as a blocker in the return game.’’

The coach said Nunn has made some impressive plays during the preseason. “He has continued to make progress on a steady basis, and he has done a lot of things to catch our eye and everyone else that has seen him play,’’ said Belichick.

Belichick said he did not have an update on Matthew Slater, who left Thursday night’s game with a left arm injury after getting tripped up on a kickoff return.

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

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