Maybe the second game of the preseason didn’t mean much to the viewing public. The Philadelphia Eagles played most of their starters for three quarters while New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick countered with just about every healthy backup available on the roster.
More was said about who didn’t play (QB Tom Brady, NT Vince Wilfork, WR Wes Welker, CB Devin McCourty, OG Logan Mankins, TE Rob Gronkowski, TE Aaron Hernandez, CB Kyle Arrington) than about who was actually on the field.
The game mattered to the players that played, though. DTs Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace are trying to remain with the team after abbreviated 2011 seasons.
Further down the depth chart you’ll find DE Justin Francis and DT Marcus Forston. They understand they’re unlikely to make the roster, but they’re playing hard to make an impression. The active roster is almost out of the question, but they could still make the practice squad.
The list of rags to riches stories out of the Patriots locker room keeps growing year after year. If Belichick sees potential in a player, he will find a way to keep that player to develop for down the road.
Monday night wasn’t a strong game for either Francis or Forston as they combined for two tackles and three assists. But Francis was a camp star early in training camp while Forston was active and disruptive in the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints.
Maybe they already have the coaches’ attention, but neither has reason to feel comfortable as the first cut down is due Monday at 4 P.M.
Francis flew under the radar at Rutgers despite a solid senior season. 64 tackles (13 for a loss) and 6.5 sacks didn’t make him a star. Doing it in the Big East Conference devalued the production. If Francis did it in the ACC or SEC, it would had validated Francis as at least a mid-round selection.
Forston miscalculated his decision to leave the University of Miami early. He has talent, but injuries during his years with the Hurricanes were a red flag to scouts as they question his durability.
The questions are valid.
It's hard to blame Forston for his decision to leave early. Another year playing for Miami only put him at risk for another critical injury. But declaring for the draft after a knee injury limited Forston to just three games in his junior year worked against him.
Francis and Forston missed out on the phone call from a coach with friends and family celebrating in the background. They didn’t see their profile flash on the screen with their measurables and statistics followed by a few college highlights.
Days after the draft was over and they received encouragement to not give up, they chose the Patriots over other teams. They are taking the encouragement to heart.
Monday was a great opportunity for Francis and Forston. They saw a lot of action in the second half as they had chances to impress. Often they were lined up next to each other, sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right.
The reason is two-fold. For one, the coaches want to see where they play their best. And if they can be ambidextrous, the versatility only makes them more valuable to the team.
Friday night, the starters are expected to play into the third quarter before the players fighting for the remaining few roster spots enter the game for mop-up duty. Francis and Forston hope to play well enough to avoid the ax on Monday for one last shot to impress in the preseason finale Wednesday against the New York Giants.
The practice squad is a long shot for Francis and Forston, but it’s within reach. DTs Mike Wright and Kyle Love did it before them. There is no reason why Francis and Forston can’t be the next undrafted rookies to slowly earn their way onto the Patriots roster.
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