Sunday, January 2, 2011

Opportunity knocks for Patriots' backups + Week 17 Picks

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
With nothing on the line, the Patriots backups get a chance to shine

The Patriots' starters have made it clear that they want to play on Sunday, whether the game is meaningless or not.

However, receiver; Wes Welker, tore his ACL/MCL in a meaningless week 17 game last year and was forced to miss the playoffs, which the Patriots lost in the first round. With that in mind, many fans and media members have urged the starters to sit - eying a deep run in the playoffs.

While the starters may have preached their desire to play, Belichick has come out and said, "anybody that is not 100 percent, this probably isn't the game to put them out there and play them at less than that." Belichick's statement has certainly been reflected in today's 8 man inactive list.

Receivers, Deion Branch and Wes Welker, have been listed as inactive for the game against Miami. That opens the door for rookie third round draft pick, Taylor Price, to crack the game-day roster for the first time this year. The receiver has had somewhat of a redshirt type year. The offense he was a part of in Ohio is much different than what the Patriots run, in week 17 he'll likely get the opportunity to show how much he's learned in practices all year.

 (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Fred Taylor is another one who will likely get more playing time. Taylor has missed the majority of the season with a toe injury, but even when he was healthy enough to come back he took a seat to the surging BenJarvus Green-Ellis. This game could very well be the last chance the veteran Taylor has to showcase how much he has left in the tank.

Expect a lot of Patriots to take advantage of the new opportunity presented to them against the Dolphins.

Even though Tom Brady insists he will play, fans will see a much larger dose of second year backup quarterback, Brian Hoyer, in the Patriots' game against the Dolphins. Hoyer has actually gotten a lot of snaps in practice with Tom Brady often missing with a foot injury or flu and the young signal caller has impressed his teammates, including Brady.

"He's really a smart kid that's got all the physical skills. He just needs the opportunity," praised Brady. "He's done everything the coaches have asked for. Obviously they have a lot of confidence in him; he was the backup last year. I think the whole team has a lot of confidence in Brian."

Hoyer's had a lot of success on the Patriots, just not in plain view of the fans or media. He's been the one running the scout team offense, which helps the defense prepare for the next week's opponent. In that regard, Hoyer has excelled earning the respect and recognition of his coaches.

"Several weeks he has been recognized as one of the players that has been the black jersey guy [practice player of the week] - the guys that give us a great look the week before, so he has been very good at that", said Belichick. "Again, that's when a quarterback can sharpen up some of his skills as well. You are working against the first defense and you are usually working against, hopefully, defenses that are somewhat designed to stop what they're doing so that the throws and the reads are tougher"

"Working against our defensive players doing our thing sometimes is a lot harder for a quarterback than running our offense against a defense that doesn't quite execute the other team's defense as well as what we're going to see on Sunday. Again, those are opportunities for our scout team players to really improve technique-wise, but also the overall understanding and execution working against our defense. I think he does a good job of taking advantage of those opportunities."

(Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
In total, Brian Hoyer has won three practice player of the week awards. Those were for preparing for games against the Bears, Colts and Steelers. However, he's not the only stand out player in practice that will get some time to shine against Miami.

Wide receiver, Julian Edelman, has won the honor four times on the year.

Edelman impressed fans last year when he filled in for Wes Welker at both the beginning and end of last season. He's also been a stand out in the pre-season in the two years of his career as well. However, this year everything hasn't quite clicked for him.

Edelman's been the fourth receiever on the Patriots depth chart -- behind Brandon Tate, Wes Welker, and Deion Branch -- meaning his opportunities have been limited. In last week's game against the Buffalo Bills, Edelman was on the field a mere 7 out of 68 snaps. When the young receiever has gotten an opportunity to catch the ball, he's often dropped it.

Despite that, Brady had nothing but compliments for his teammate.

"If anything, Julian presses maybe too hard," said Brady. "He's very critical of himself all of the time and sometimes I think that some players beat themselves up. Julian is one of those guys because he wants to do it so right...But nobody works harder than Julian. He fits right in with that receiver group of Deion and Wes because they all work so hard and they push each other. He's a great asset to this team."

Against the Dolphins, he'll get plenty of chances to improve his confidence.

With so many starters inactive for the game, Patriots fans will see a lot more of Price, Taylor, Hoyer, Edelman and others trying to make good of their opportunity.

WR Wes Welker
WR Deion Branch
OLB Tully Banta-Cain
DL Brandon Deaderick
OL Dan Connolly
DL Ron Brace
DL Mike Wright
TE Aaron Hernandez

Week 17 Picks
Atlanta over Carolina (24-14)
Baltimore over Cincinnati (17-10)
Pittsburgh over Cleveland (20-14)
Detroit over Minnesota (14-10)
Oakland over Kansas City (21-14)
New England over Miami (16-14)
New Orleans over Tampa Bay (24-17)
New York Jets over Buffalo (17-13)
San Diego over Denver (31-14)
Green Bay over Chicago (28-7)
Houston over Jacksonville (27-14)
Indianapolis over Tennessee (31-17)
Dallas over Philadelphia (21-14)
Arizona over San Francisco (14-7)
New York Giants over Washington (24-14)
St. Louis over Seattle (21-10)

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