I used to like those episodes of M*A*S*H when Sherman Potter or somebody would announce they were “BUGGING OUT!” They’d have to throw the camp, operating room and all, into the back of a horse and a half dozen jeeps and move it further from the line. Hilarity would inevitably ensue. One time, I think they even bugged out in a complete circle. I tell you, those folks at the Hallmark channel don’t get enough credit for running those M*A*S*H blocks eight days a week.

Anyway, I guess you could say the Patriots BUGGED OUT on Thursday, officially closing the portion of the pre-season known as ‘training camp’. I guess this means we’re not invited to watch practice anymore.

The Patriots will open their 2006 home schedule on Saturday night when the Arizona Cardinals come to Foxboro. Albeit for a practice game, but still.

New England comes off a last-second loss to the Falcons in Atlanta, where they opened the pre-season last week. Since then, we’ve alternated our regularly-scheduled worrying jags between the wide receiver, the backup quarterback, and the linebacker positions.

Not here, mind you. This is the most ridiculous of all the ridiculous Patriots fanzines, and nobody’s going to take that away from us. Not while I’m alive.

Let’s ask the boys to weigh in on the latest happenings in Patriots-land.

Reche Caldwell had an inauspicious debut for the Pats, catching only one pass and dropping a potential touchdown from Tom Brady. This, predictably, had the Usual Suspects wagging their tongues about Caldwell and the Pats receiver position as a whole. With the pre-season half over, are they jumping the gun, or ahead of the curve?

Bruce: Well, before the guy had ever even taken the practice field with the Patriots, informed observer Gary Tanguay emphatically stated that Caldwell was a STIFF. The fact that many message board posters and other veteran media observers have repeated that statement only convinces me more and more that these guys are all way ahead of the curve. It is clear to me that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli have lost their ability to scout players. Obviously the only time they saw him play was when he caught a TD against DUANE STARKS last season. They thought Starks could play too. Need I say more? Cut him now. He can’t play. D.U.N. (Note: If you didn’t detect the sarcasm in this response then perhaps I’m the one who is D.U.N.)

Greg: Jumping the gun. We don’t know what Caldwell will be. But one “dropped” pass, which was a fairly difficult catch in that it was rifled thru traffic in a tight area, does not answer much. All receivers occasionally have plays like that. If one goes back and remembers what the play before Champ Bailey took a Tom Brady pass 100 yards for a touchdown on an interception return in the playoffs last year, it was a much more egregious drop by David Givens near the end zone. The questions about Caldwell will only be answered over time. There has been more good performances from him this summer than bad. As usual, the ones incapable of true analysis jump to rash conclusions so as to appear knowledgeable.

Scott: I don’t know what Caldwell is going to do, and neither do they. I’m encouraged that Tom Brady’s talked him up, but we won’t know for awhile whether he can take the next step in his career and produce consistently. I don’t argue that the current group of receivers (especially when you exclude Chad Jackson and Deion Branch, who for one reason or another have been non-entities so far) is a big step down from prior groups. But does that automatically mean the Patriots will have a poorer, less-effective offense? Maybe this year’s playmakers will line up at the running back and tight end. The Patriots have always been able to adapt to changing circumstances, and maybe the circumstance that’s changing now is a transition back to a interior-focused, run-oriented, ball control attack. Maybe that’s what all the tight ends and the first-round running back are about. And I would be remiss in not mentioning the fact that Branch will return at some point (only sheer lunacy will dictate otherwise), as will Jackson.

Matt Cassel also struggled at times and while he emulates Brady, he was a poor imitation of him while in the pocket. He was jittery and impatient, almost never set and comfortable, and as a result often had a hard time hitting the proverbial Broad Side of The Barn. Television and radio personality Michael Felger suggested it’s ‘time to panic’ about the Patriots backup quarterback position. Is Felger on to something, or just on something?

Greg: It’s not time to panic. He’s not Tom Brady and not ready to be Tom Brady. But then again, neither is any other quarterback. Cassel is only in his second year and has improved. Just not at the rate Brady did. He can be an adequate back up and continue to improve such that eventually, he may be an excellent quarterback.

Scott: He’s on something, and it’s called the radio. We’ve talked about this before. I think what gets me about the Cassel thing this week is that people seemed to be judging him on that one performance, as if it was the first time they’d seen him. It was the first time they’d seen him as The Backup Quarterback, I guess. I couldn’t help thinking back to New Year’s Day – in a regular-season game, no less – when Cassel seemed to handle himself pretty well. So well that people couldn’t believe he would miss Bam Childress on the game’s final play – unless, of course, he was trying to (wink, wink). What, his struggles last Friday cancel that out? Baloney. Right now is exactly when he should be experiencing real-time ups and downs. Guess what – he’s a young quarterback, and inexperienced, and some things in life just take time, son. Time, apparently, that some people don’t have. Tough.

Bruce: Again, when an esteemed member of the fourth estate tells me it’s time to panic, who am I to argue? It simply doesn’t matter that Cassel has about as much experience at quarterback as I do. It is impossible to think that he can get better, or improve his footwork, or learn to read live defenses and coverage better. Just won’t happen. After all, what is the first preseason game for? Everyone knows that the sole purpose of the very first preseason game every year is to pass irrevocable judgment on who can play and who can’t. I’m just thankful that I have such experienced and skillful talent evaluators such as Mike Felger to guide me in my thinking on such critical matters.

The Falcons ran for damn near 200 yards on the Patriots last week, which instantly brought attention (not the good kind) to the team’s allegedly-thin linebacking corps, particularly its middle men. Monty Beisel in particular stood out (also, not in the good way). During practice this week, Beisel was banished to second unit as Mike Vrabel moved back inside and Tully Banta Cain replaced Vrabel on the outside. What does this signal? Is this more moving-around for flexibility’s sake, or could Vrabel be back inside to stay, even after Tedy Bruschi’s return?

Greg: Beisel was actually on the second unit before last week’s game. He didn’t start. I personally didn’t see him as the problem in the Falcons game, but clearly he hasn’t earned a starters job. There are obvious depth issues at linebacker. I can agree with that. What I can’t agree with is it won’t be better as the season gets rolling with other acquisitions, Tedy Bruschi returning and the players already here improving. Some did show flashes like Tully Banta-Cain, Jeremey Mincey and Pierre Woods.

Bruce: It means this team is heading for 3-13, obviously! Belichick is just throwing people out there, desperately trying to find something that will work. OK, this shtick isn’t working for me. I can’t play the role of an irrational media sycophant any longer. It just feels so dirty. Ok…Seymour didn’t play, Bruschi didn’t play, when they play the run defense will be MUCH better. As far as who will be next to Bruschi, Vrabel might find himself inside quite a bit more, especially since the club seems to have several young pass rushing outside linebacker candidates. Barry Gardner might also be ahead of Beisel on the depth chart, and there is always the possibility of a trade. It was reported this week that Scott Pioli was hanging around his father-in-law Bill Parcells down in Dallas, who might have a spare inside linebacker that could be had as part of a transaction.

Scott: OK, so Greg was clearly more observant than I, and he’s right: Beisel was demoted to second unit (after starting camp teamed with Tedy Bruschi) last week. The fact of when it happened, though, isn’t as important as that it happened. Hey, a year-plus into his tenure here, the guy is trailing Barry Gardner and Don Davis on the depth chart (no disrespect intended, Barry and Don). You know this – I’m usually the last guy to give up on anybody (I am just waiting for Duane Starks to have a two-pick game this season so I can rub your noses in it),.but can you explain to me why the hell should I believe at this point that Monty Beisel can play? But I’m excited by this move of Vrabel this week, and I already hope it stays that way. I just love the idea of an inside team of Bruschi and The Ohio State alum, for their brains and brawn. Just doesn’t seem like an easy group to push around, and even more, is there a better place for your core leaders than in the middle of the field? And Belichick says Tully Banta-Cain is improved, so let’s see it.

If you could keep only one rookie or UDFA based on the results of last week’s game, who would it be? And no fair picking Maroney. That’s too easy.

Bruce: Willie Andrews. Finding someone who can fearlessly field and return all kinds of kicks as he demonstrated he could is rare. He was also in on other special teams activities and we find out later in the week that the coaching staff is giving him some reps at wide receiver. Not bad for a seventh round selection. Pierre Woods seemed to be in on a lot of plays as well.

Greg: Well, defensive lineman Santonio Thomas was an UDFA, so I’d pick him. But he was on the practice squad most of last year, so perhaps you mean right out of college. I liked what I saw out of Ryan O’Callaghan. He looks like he could be a 5th round steal early on. I’ll go with him.

Scott: Of all the questions to be batting third on. Bruce stole my guy. But no worries – the ace up my sleeve is rookie utilityman Garrett Mills. Yeah, he beat up on a bunch of second and third stringers last Friday, but I put it to you this way: isn’t dominating second and third team players kind of what you’d expect from your first-team guys? Whether its as fullback, h-back, tight end or slot receiver – this guy is going to help the Patriots move the chains this fall. That’s already looking like a hell of a draft pick. Keep your fingers crossed that it is.

Let’s give the big Mediot of the Week wheel a spin.

Greg: So many choices, so little time. Ring me up for Andy Gresh of the WBCN pre-game show. Nothing specific, it’s just that his screeching, moronic analysis is awful to listen to. His attempts to sound football-savvy by working in little phrases and anecdotes that have little to do with anything and are obvious covers for a moron with nothing much to say, earn him the award for this week.

Scott: Dr. Z, hands down. No, not the weird car guy from the commercials, but the other Dr. Z, Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated. This week he sent a nice bottle of whine to new Commissioner Roger Goodell, in the form of an ‘open letter’ in his August 15th on-line Inside the NFL column. And guess what pressing issue ol’ chrome dome wants the new commish to tackle first? Those tight-lipped New England Patriots. You know, the guys that make life so difficult for the those pampered aristocrats of the oh-so-self-important Fourth Estate. Those awful, paranoid, self-important Pats. Naturally, the egghead wants Bill Belichick to be more forthcoming with his injury reports and his assistant coaches. It wasn’t so much that he compared Belichick to Joseph Stalin (he did, though); it was that in presenting his case to Goodell, Zimmerman rationalized that he and his brethren were entitled to this information because “we represent the fans.” Oh, for crissakes. Can I tell you just how freaking tired I am of these gasbags floating that old saw? Look – Paul Zimmerman represents Paul Zimmerman and that’s as far as it goes. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, baldy. Paul Zimmerman isn’t upset because information isn’t being provided to the fans – its because people aren’t hitting their knees the minute he walks inside the ropes. Consequently, he may have to work as hard as Mike Reiss to find the story (a thought which, I gather, is rather unappealing to a fossil like Zimmerman), instead of strolling in there like he’s parting the Red Sea. When will one of these guys just admit that it’s all about them? Never. But wrapping himself in the ‘fans’ flag to buffer his petty bitching is about as craven as it gets.

Bruce: Put me down for Dan Shaughnessy. His pathetic shots at the franchise as we went to press last Friday were mind-numbingly stupid. The day before, he had suggested that the team was jealous of the Red Sox. Then on Friday, he cited the Patriots 500 page media guide as a sign of the organization’s ” paranoia/self-importance” – The Red Sox have a 660 page media guide of their own. He also pulled a page out of the Kevin Mannix playbook when he complained about NFL preseason games being a scam.