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Friday was the final day for NFL rosters to cut down to 53 players. All the work in the preseason goes into figuring out the best 53-man combination to go into the season with. Every year there are some cuts that cause fans to question the motive, and this year has been no different. The biggest cuts were wide receiver Deion Branch, longtime center Dan Koppen, backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, and safety (from last season) James Ihedigbo.
Taking a look at the 53-man roster, you will notice how many defenders have been kept heading into the season. While the Patriots are only keeping four wide receivers (though, that number could jump to five if the team keeps WR Greg Lalas, who they acquired in a trade with the Rams on Saturday), they are keeping 10 defensive backs (four safeties, six cornerbacks). They are also keeping a combined total of 17 defensive linemen and linebackers. The purpose for so many defenders seems to be Belichick’s love for rotating his guys in and out on defense to keep them fresh, as well as to put the best players in the best situation.
His unorthodox defensive schemes have yielded championship results with Troy Brown and Randall Gay as defensive backs, and recently turned Mark Anderson into a multi-million dollar defensive lineman. Keeping an excess number of defenders, and young ones at that, shows the teams commitment to overhaul this defense as they continue to work towards finding who fits best.
The biggest shocks were the releases of Dan Koppen and Deion Branch. However, if you were paying attention to the team throughout the preseason neither of these moves would have surprised you. Koppen has been trying to come back from an injury that caused him to miss most of the season last year, and has not been playing well in his time. All you need to know about why Koppen was cut is to realize he was playing in the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game. That time is usually given to players trying to give it one last shot at making the club. It’s not usually given to veterans who have a lock on their spot. The Patriots are comfortable in Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly enough to part ways with the veteran Koppen. He had a tremendous career with the Patriots, considering he was a fifth round draft pick. I’m sure everyone in New England hopes the best for Koppen and that he is able to find a place on another roster.
Originally I thought Branch was going to be cut all along. I thought Branch would be cut in order to make space for Jabar Gaffney. However, when Gaffney was cut it seemed Branch would have a spot on the team. Apparently Bill is feeling comfortable in starting the season with just four wide receivers on the roster (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, and Matthew Slater…and maybe Lalas, too). There is a small belief that the only reason they released Gaffney is because of an injury he sustained prior to the cut. There is a chance Gaffney is brought back in once he is healed and his release was to provide more depth at other positions for the start of the season.
Branch is in the same boat, where you can never count out a return to the team. There was no way either Branch or Gaffney could be sent to the practice squad so releasing them was the only move at this point. Because both men know the offense and Brady so well, there is hope to see one of, if not both, of them back on the roster before the end of the year.
The release of Hoyer is somewhat of a surprise but more than anything it shows the confidence the team has in Ryan Mallett. There’s always the possibility of the Patriots adding another young quarterback to the practice squad for added depth, but they have carried two quarterbacks in the past. In 2009 Brady and Hoyer were the only quarterbacks on the roster, and this was coming off the year that Brady missed due to the knee injury. The main aspect is that if Brady goes down whoever replaces him would be forced to step up. The offensive line needs to keep Brady on the field, it doesn’t really matter who his backup is.
The cut down to 53 players can mean only one thing: the regular season is right around the corner. The anticipation is mounting as all of New England awaits week one against Tennessee. After a disappointing loss in the Super Bowl, a heartbreaking loss in the Eastern Conference Finals, and a less than dismal baseball season, the fans could use something to get excited for. Patriot football is just that.