rt logoby Bruce Allen, Greg Doyle, Tim Jordan, Kevin Thomas, Dan Snapp, Travis Graham and Scott Benson

The Patriots open their 2007 home schedule tonight with a pre-season matchup with Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans (8:00 PM, on the Patriots Regional Television Network).

The team has now broken training camp and is moving quickly towards the season opener, so urgency will begin to rear its head a little more every week now. And tonight is not your typical practice game, it seems: the Titans are still fuming over last December’s loss to the Pats in Nashville, and come to Foxboro (if you can believe Keith Bulluck) with an eye towards settling the score.

No wonder Vinny Testaverde hasn’t joined the Patriots yet: self-preservation.

Anyway, tonight gives the team’s fans a chance to work out the kinks on their (traffic) timing patterns, at the very least. While I’m thinking of it, maybe it’s time to bring out the Roundtable gang for a little conditioning run of their own. First, some breaking news:

According to Adam Schefter on NFL.com, the Patriots have just signed Ty Warren to an extension:

The Patriots signed standout defensive end Ty Warren to a five-year extension on Thursday worth over $36 million, including $17.5 million in guaranteed money.

Warren, the 13th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, had two years remaining on his exisiting contract.

He had two years left on his rookie deal, so this seems a break with renegotiation policy. Is this smart, or are they setting a bad precedent? Also, what effect might this have on the Samuel stalemate, if any?

Scott: I’ll choose ‘smart’, because we all saw how Warren played last year. He’s becoming one of the best defensive linemen in the league. If the precedent is that the Patriots build from the inside out, I’m good with that (hey, ‘Zant’!). I’m mostly relieved that there’s at least one ‘suffocating’ rookie contract that we won’t be hearing about later on. 

Bruce: It’s pretty clear that the Patriots will pay the guys that they value highly. Obviously Warren fits into that category. When Belichick got here, he put an emphasis on building the defensive and offensive lines, and once he finds the guys that fit what he wants to do, (Seymour, Light, Koppen, Warren) they get the deals done. Cornerback doesn’t seem to be a position where the team is going to invest heavily. They showed that with Ty Law, and it appears they’re doing the same with Asante Samuel.

Dan: Well, this proves it! It’s Belichick’s last year!

We’re at the three week mark today; has anything happened to date that you didn’t expect?

Tim: It’s surprising to see Jabar Gaffney staying ahead of the WR class this year. I guess it shouldn’t be considering his performance at the end of last year, but he was usually one of the first names mentioned as the odd man out prior to training camp.

Travis: I didn’t expect to NOT hear Chad Jackson’s name at all. I thought he would come out with guns-a-blazing after a tough rookie year and reportedly recovered from his off-season surgery. Oh well. I also didn’t expect Donte’ Stallworth to have an alterego “Nicco”, a resident of Mars. The league-wide urine analysis takes place before the first preseason game, correct?

Greg: I didn’t expect to see Brandon Meriweather at corner as much as they have had him there. It doesn’t surprise me they tried him out a bit, exposed him a bit. But the extend of it has been a little unexpected. I still think he’ll be mostly a safety and play a lot this year.

Dan: Not Patriots-related, but I didn’t expect things to go so badly for the Colts. In addition to the players they lost in the spring (which the press summarily dismissed), they’ve now lost key cogs on both lines. The Colts are a great team, but there’s only so much attrition you can offset.

Tim: I am rooting for Mike Richardson to be the big surprise in the secondary. Ii am hopeful we are looking at a David Givens redux – a physically gifted late round golden domer who, for whatever reason, never fulfilled expectations at ND.

Bruce: Richardson appears to have gotten the attention of the scribes down at Gillette. Maybe it’s just the Charlie Weis/Notre Dame easy story connection, but he’s been the subject of a few articles this past week, and several have noted that he’s been fairly impressive thus far. It would be a good story to have a late round pick come in at a position of need and contribute, so he’ll likely get more attention as camp progresses.

Scott: Josh Miller was cut on Thursday, meaning its very likely that the Patriots will have another first-year specialist for the second season in a row. Any surprise that they were looking to replace Miller?

Travis: I was in attendance at an evening pratice last week, and all three punters were kicking back and forth. The punters are probably the only players that the fans can actually judge. It’s not rocket science to figure out who’s kick went farther. That Baugher kid clearly had the best leg. Miller’s cap number was $1.14M and Baugher’s is $0.28M. I think that made the decision real easy. I hope Miller stashed away some of his “Felger Fifties”.

Scott: What about the tight end position? You couldn’t have predicted the various ailments (in some cases, maybe you could have), but who thought that it might actually be a soft spot when the season started? I didn’t. I suppose the prevailing thought is that they went with tight ends when they didn’t have receivers, so this time they’ll go with wide receivers if they don’t have tight ends. I’m probably old fashioned, but I think you lose something on the physical side when you do that. I think those kind of things matter when you’re expecting to go – as Patrick Sullivan used to say – deep in the playoffs.

Greg: No, but I’m actually impressed they managed to find two guys off the scrap heap, Marcellus Rivers and Brian Jones, I think are capable of playing in the NFL this year. That helps. Neither is likely to make it here, as Thomas, Brady and Watson all should be healthy together at some point. But these guys are competent players and its surprising they found them when the need arose.

Bruce: Well, the position might be soft right now, and perhaps even when the season starts, but I think they’re going to be cautious with these guys because they know how important the very element you speak of is. Watson and Brady will be given the time they need to be at full strength when they’re needed. I expect David Thomas to start the season on PUP…not a mention has been made of him really, and I don’t even recall him being mentioned in the walk-throughs.

Dan: See, here’s where Borges is just dying that he’s not still at the Globe. It’s a tailor-made column for him. Team lets Graham get away to a big rival, “thinking they can replace him on the cheap,” he’d say. Then he could reel off something about fragile second-year man David Thomas, and how they were so unsure of Thomas, they made a makeup pick in Mills the next round. Finally, he could top it of with Geritol jokes about Kyle Brady. Tailor-made, I tell you.

Bruce: So was it Borges that had the hatred for Belchick and the Patriots, or was it Mike Sando? I guess we’ll never know.

What’s the take on Matt Cassel, by the way? Should he be showing more poise in his third year?

Tim: Cassel seems to be getting a ton of snaps since training camp started. Considering his experience I am cutting him some slack on the workload alone. He seems to make a play worth mentioning each practice. I agree he wasn’t very smooth in Tampa though.

Greg: I like Cassel. He has obvious talent, the reports on him are positive (including his work ethic) and has had some good moments in spots. But sometimes in these last three preseasons, he has looked not as smooth as you’d hope (for lack of a better word). Call it poise, whatever. In some ways its unfair, he usually comes in after Brady who is about as poised a QB as you can find. So that can exaggerrate the shortcoming. And he is usually, if not always, playing with a mishmash of backups, guys who haven’t played together a lot and guys who won’t make the team. It would be interesting to see how he looked if Belichick could give him a quarter or quarter and a half with the first offense. Maybe this week. I think we could get a better judgment on this question if that occurred.

Dan: And just like that, Albert Breer mirrors what Greg said earlier about Cassel working with the first team. Good call, Greg:

QB Matt Cassel had one of his best days of camp today, and it seems to be in large part because – with Tom Brady absent – he was working with the top group. The big thing was that he was getting rid of the ball on time, and was moving up in the pocket instead of abandoning it altogether in most cases. It’s important that the Patriots get him game reps, because that’s what he’s lacking. The internal clock just hasn’t been there enough, and he can only develop that with game reps. But his touch and velocity are there on the throws, and he’s got every bit the arm that Brady does.

Scott: He’s been lacking game reps since he graduated high school. That’s probably never going to change.

It seems like the expectations for this team are higher than they’ve ever been, including their post-championship years. Does that matter any, either positively or negatively?

Kevin: I wonder about all the new players on the roster, and how they’ll react when the consensus pre-season champions go through the inevitable rough periods that plague every NFL team. When the team finally breaks camp, probably only about 20-25 guys out of 53 will have been here for one of the Super Bowl years, so you can’t just automatically assume that the character and attitude of the team is still the same as it was 4-5 years ago. The key guys, including most of the coaches and team captains, are still in place, so I wouldn’t expect a drastic change. But the newer guys, to a large extent are going to define the character of the team, for better or for worse.

Scott: That’s true – and like Travis said, now they have guys with alter egos, apparently. And MySpace pages (Laurece Maroney). Its an interesting juxtaposition to what has traditionally been a more reserved approach. And if Ellis Hobbs got paid by the word, we’d see Asante Samuel as the far cheaper alternative. He’s our first winner of the Christian Fauria ‘Most Likely Patriot to Comment in Today’s Paper’ award. He does it very well, by the way, and like with Fauria, guys like Hobbs make it easier for the guys who aren’t as comfortable to fly under the radar a little more. Anyway, Kevin, as a follower of the team, what would you define as a “successful” season this year?

Kevin: That’s a tough question to answer without knowing how things play out, but certainly making the playoffs is a must, absent extraordinary circumstances. I can’t imagine being happy if they don’t win the Division, and are at least playing in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Beyond that, it’s tough to say. If this turns out to be one of those years that looks like its up for grabs, with no really dominant teams, and the Patriots don’t make at least a deep run in the post-season, I think we will be right to feel disappointed. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s ever fair to expect a championship, or even a Super Bowl appearance, no matter how dominant a team looks on paper. A lot also depends on how they finish: if they blow a 15 point 2nd-half lead or crap the bed against an inferior opponent like they have in the past two post-seasons, I think we have the right to be disappointed. At the same time, I don’t think there should be any shame in simply coming up short against a tough, worthy opponent. I think I probably would have felt even better about last season if it had ended a week earlier in San Diego.

So, Deadspin and ESPN are probably going to be linking us again today. That’s going to be a regular thing, right? Sure. Send your best wishes to our national benefactors here!