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The Big Nickel: Tom Brady talks about self-scouting, there’s a mystery man wearing No. 53 and Atiyyah Ellison hears the sweet sound of the cash register

01.05.11 at 2:57 pm ET
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Tom Brady says there's a lot of stuff for the Patriots to work on this week. (AP)

FOXBORO — The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Wednesday:

1. In a bye week during the season, usually much of the time is spent looking back and engaging self-scouting, as well as looking forward to your next opponent. However, with the Patriots’ divisional round opponent yet to be determined — it could be the Jets, Ravens or Chiefs — it sounds like the focus around Gillette Stadium, at least for this week, is going to be more on self-scouting.

In the eyes of many of the Patriots’ players, it’s not a minute too soon.

“Well, there certainly is a lot to fix. I don’t want to sit here and tell you all of the things that we’re working on, but there are plenty of things that we need to figure out — ways to do things better,” quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday morning. Certain guys haven’t been out there in a few weeks so, a guy like Aaron [Hernandez] and Deion [Branch] – hopefully they can get out there to practice and make some improvements.

“There are teams that are practicing today and that do have games this weekend and the team that we play is going to win a playoff game this weekend, and they are going to have made improvements, and I sure hope we can make improvements, too.”

Apparently, coach Bill Belichick and Patriots were able to examine themselves sharply in a rather critical Wednesday morning film session. According to players, it’s all part of a process that will culminate at the end of the week. And once the opponent has been determined, that’s when more of the looking forward will begin.

“I think if [you] look at our work and look at what we’ve done the past couple of games, it looks good. I think the coaches did a great job of breaking down the game tape,” said Branch. “[But] I think we’ve got a lot of stuff that we’ve got to correct. And there was a lot of stuff that was pointed out. I know a lot of guys took that to heart. And we’re going to go out and improve it with these two days and the extra days that we have next week.”

“You’ve just got to make sure that when you come into work, you’re working; you’re working on something to get better,” said tight end Alge Crumpler. “We’ve all been critiqued this morning and we’ll watch a lot of film, do a lot of things, get out and practice and bang around for a little bit. I can’t think of anything else that we can do right now other than look back on the things that we can get better at and just make sure that we go into this postseaon game fully prepared and ready.”

2. The following players were missing from the start of Patriots practice on Wednesday afternoon: Tight end Aaron Hernandez, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, defensive lineman/outside linebacker Eric Moore and defensive lineman Mike Wright. In addition, we saw red noncontact jerseys for the first time since training camp, with Danny Woodhead and Dan Connolly (both of whom have suffered concussions) and Dan Koppen all wearing red noncontact jerseys, at least at the start of practice.

In addition, there was a player working with the linebackers who was wearing No. 53. Given what we know about the length of Wright’s injury, the fact that there was a new body wearing No. 53 working with the linebackers and the fact that former Patriot Marques Murrell was still available, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Murrell had been re-signed. (In this context, it’s important to consider that Adam Caplan of Fox Sports reported the Patriots have a seven-day roster exemption for Brandon Spikes, which began on Monday.) Regardless, we will try and get more information, but a personnel move should be announced shortly.

3. When Atiyyah Ellison heard the cash register, he knew good things were coming.

The defensive lineman was in his Missouri home ironing his son’s clothes in preparation for church last Sunday when his agent called him and said the Patriots were interested in signing him. The ring tone — customized for his agent Jim Steiner — was the sound of a cash register.

“I have a special ring on my phone for when he’s calling, so I knew it couldn’t have been anybody else but him. But sometimes, he messes with me too. Until I got my flight information, I wasn’t sure what was what,” Ellison said Wednesday morning with a smile. “Usually when he calls, it’s about money — either I owe him money or we’re going to get some money together.”

The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Ellison is joining his eighth team since being drafted in the third round by the Panthers out of Missouri in 2005. (His best season came in 2009 when he played in 15 games with six starts for Jacksonville in 2009 and finished with 16 total tackles, one sack and one pass defensed.) He had some preconceived ideas about the Patriots based on his time with the Jaguars last season.

“I played here last year against them with Jacksonville, and I knew they had a good team. Then, you look at their record this year and they’re rolling over everybody, so I really didn’t know what the need was,” said Ellison, who will wear No. 93. “I saw they were bringing d-tackles in here, and my wife — she’ keeps up on it closer than me. She had mentioned it a while ago that the Patriots had brought some d-linemen out here, and I guess somebody got suspended and somebody got released. I’m just happy to be here now.”

Ellison has experience at all three spots up front in a 3-4 defensive scheme, but he isn’t sure how he’ll be utilized. For now, he’s just happy to be on a team, especially one that’s headed into the postseason. He realizes how unique his situation really is.

“It’s something that [doesn’t] happen much,” he said of joining a team on the cusp of the postseason. “Yeah, it’s not impossible, but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you to possibly be in the playoffs and all that. I’ve basically been at home all year.

“I don’t know what my role is going to be. It’s tough to even try to rush and learn everything that they’ve been putting in the whole year, but I’ll just do the best I can and rely on my athletic ability after that.”

4. Piggybacking on our story from last night on how the postseason changes for young players (and whether or not they are capable of handling it), there was a lot of talk in the locker room this morning about getting the young players ready for playoff football.

“We played tough teams this year, not only in our division, but outside of our division, especially in the AFC. So I think we’ll be ready for it,” said cornerback Darius Butler. “Devin [McCourty]’s done a great job. Kyle [Arrington]’s done a great job. Everybody that’s been in there has been doing a pretty good job and been getting better with each week, so hopefully that continues.”

“The speed picks up a little bit because everybody really wants it, so the intensity changes. You have to focus in a lot more on the preparation. Not much more than that,” said running back Fred Taylor. “The bottom line is winning. That’s what it’s all about. The coaches bring these guys in, and just because you’ve experienced something, you try to do whatever you can just to pull them along for the betterment of the team so the entire team can be successful.”

For Taylor, New England’s division opener will mark the ninth playoff game of his career. He said that it helps having postseason experience to understand how the game changes.

“That helps. It will probably remind them of their very first NFL game,” Taylor said. “I don’t think it will be any different. For me, in my first playoff game, it wasn’t that much of a difference. Probably there is a sense of urgency being that [if] you lose, you go home. From that standpoint, you just do whatever you have to do to make sure you give the team the best opportunity to win.”

5. Interesting to hear Belichick’s reaction when he was asked about the Brandon Deaderick situation on Wednesday afternoon. The Patriots coach was asked if he could “talk about what led to Deaderick’s suspension,” and the coach responded with a flat, “No.” Pressed further, he responded by saying, “Whatever is between the player and the team is between the player and the team.” No official announcement was made on a move, but when Wednesday’s rosters were released, Deaderick was on the reserve/suspended list. For what it’s worth, he still has a spot in the locker room, but it’s clear he has crossed some sort of line with the franchise, who felt strong enough to sit him down even though they are thin along the defensive line heading into the postseason.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Caplan, Alge Crumpler, Atiyyah Ellison
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