- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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As the first of two deadline days for roster cutdowns draw near, New England Patriots players understand what is at stake, while remaining focused on what is within their control.
By 4 p.m. ET Monday, the Patriots will have to decrease their roster to 75 players, down 10 from their current total of 85. Just four days later, by Friday night at 9, the team will finalize its 53-man roster heading into the regular season.
Cornerback Devin McCourty, who hasn't had to deal with the pressure of facing a potential release, nonetheless sympathizes with the large group of players who will no longer be a part of this team in the near future.
"I think personally, it's just one of the worst parts of this business and playing football, is those two cutdown days," McCourty said.
Players such as Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater, a fifth-round pick in 2008, have had to endure the tenuous times of not knowing their future with a team. It was a challenge that Slater, a 2011 Pro Bowl special teams player, faced early in his career, and the process taught him an important lesson.
"What I learned early on in my career is to try not to think about it and just go out and continue to do my job and focus on what I had to do," Slater said. "And really, at the end of the day, if I put forth my best effort, that was all I could control. And it's tough when you worry about things that you can't control because then it can consume you.
"I just learned not to play the numbers game and just try to go out and take advantage of each and every day that you have here and hope for the best from there."
Slater said he doesn't believe the atmosphere within the locker room changes as cutdown day approaches.
"Obviously we all know what's at stake, and we understand this is an unfortunate part of the business. It's a numbers game and you have to get down to a certain amount of guys," he said. "The atmosphere is no different than it usually is around here. This is an environment [in which] we have a sense of urgency at all times. Every day you walk in this building there's a sense of urgency."
"What I do is I just worry about what I can worry about, what I can control," Edelman said. "And that's trying to be a better football player every day and taking the coaching from the coaches, and ultimately just trying to contribute and help this team win ballgames."
"It's just another workday," Love added. "Guys come in, just trying to do your job, get better every day. It's another day for us."
Love understands the tension of this time of the year as well as anyone, having entered the league as an undrafted free agent, players often considered long shots to survive in the NFL. He's since established himself as an improving young player along the Patriots' defensive line and was recently rewarded with a contract extension through the 2013 season.
He says that teammates have turned to him for advice in dealing with the uncertainty of the coming week.
"A couple of guys have asked me questions: 'How about this? What is going on with this? And when do you get a call?' and stuff like that," Love stated. "I just tell them, 'Guys, don't worry too much about that because when you worry about that, it kind of can mess your game up.' I just tell them work hard every day, give it your best effort and play hard when it comes down to it."
But Love, McCourty, Slater and Edelman understand that when it comes down to it, a number of players they've grown close to, almost like brothers within their locker room, will no longer be a part of the team.
That, according to Slater, is a difficult reality to face.
"It is challenging. That's one of the tougher parts of this game, is you work alongside guys, and then guys come and go," he said. "We understand that that's part of the business we signed up for, but that doesn't make it easy, by no means.
"It is a challenge to stay mentally strong through these times and move forward, but we have to realize the end goal and realize that we're privileged to be able to be a part of this. It's very special. We just have to take advantage of every day that we have together and every day we have as a team and move forward."
Field Yates covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.