by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

All right. Are we done? Are we at a place where we know what team we have and how competitive it might be?

No? Okay.

After watching their roster go through more turnover than a family restaurant on Mother’s Day, New England now has the main guys they think can take them through 2010. How that winds up depends on many factors, most of which should come to light during Sunday’s faceoff against Cincinnati.

This Guy Made The Team?

Make Yourself Youthful: Goodbye experienced vets like Sam Aiken, Pierre Woods and Eric Alexander. Hello whippersnappers like rookie linebacker Dane Fletcher and receiver (receiver?) Matthew Slater. The Pats have let go of special teams veterans in exchange for younger players with potential. Against the return-happy Bengals, the new guys need to improve kickoff coverage. Contributing on offense and defense will go a long way toward improving the team’s so-called “middle class” of backups.

An Outside Chance: With the release of outside linebackers Woods and Derrick “I Guess I Did Retire” Burgess and an only recent return from injury by rookie Jermaine Cunningham, the New England coaches have pinned their hopes on guys like Marques Murrell and Rob Ninkovich. I’m not saying that makes me nervous, but I feel obligated to point out that those two players combined have exactly one more NFL sack than I do.

Meanwhile, Detroit rookie Willie Young – he of the seventh round – has two sacks this preseason and looks to start at defensive end. Interesting, no?

O, My: Rookie draft picks Ted Larsen and Thomas Welch got cut, putting the onus on the offensive line vets to make some inroads vs. the Bengals (ranked no. 11 in rushing defense this preseason, for what it’s worth). Of course, O-line play has a huge impact on the following…

Get Backs To Where You Once Belonged: Once again, the Pats will forego focusing on one running back and employ a platoon of them, though how dependable they are remains to be seen. The fact that we got excited about the signing of Javarris James to the practice squad says a lot about how we feel about Foxboro’s backfield personnel.

Feeling Seven Up: The front seven of New England’s defense will determine the outcome of this game, and considering they face a top ten rushing team, they have a tough road ahead. Rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes has shone this preseason, while free agent defensive end Gerard Warren has held up well. Questions remain with Mike Wright as an every-down player at right defensive end and the aforementioned outside linebackers who have as much experience as Sandra Dee.

One game never makes a season, but this one game could tell us a lot about what we need to know about this team.

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