NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
With the Patriots playing their second preseason game Thursday night, I figured there’s no better time to look at all of the second year players on the Patriots roster and where they might stand coming into this game.
Last year’s draft was one of the best Patriots drafts of all time, so there’s a lot of exciting players on this list.
Devin McCourty – It could be argued that McCourty was the most important player on the Patriots defense last season considering the lack of talent and depth surrounding him. With Leigh Bodden back, it takes some pressure off McCourty. McCourty should continue to give opposing Quarterbacks fits starting on the left side.
Rob Gronkowski – The fact that we didn’t see him at all in the Patriots first preseason game actually speaks volumes to how highly he’s thought of in the organization. He’s been one of the most impressive players in training camp this summer and should continue to build off an extraordinary rookie season.
Jermaine Cunningham – Cunningham hasn’t looked as though he’s progressed as much this off-season as was expected. He had a very solid game against the Jaguars, but it’s very telling how many veteran defensive ends were brought in this season to compete with Cunningham for a starting role. After an up and down rookie campaign, Patriots fans are expecting big things from the former Gator in 2011.
Brandon Spikes – Spikes has been out of practice for almost two weeks now with an ankle injury. Before the injury Spikes was expected to be the starting MLB in rushing downs in the Patriots 4-3 alignment. With Spikes talent, I wouldn’t expect that to change, but if Dane Fletcher continues to turn some heads it could mean less playing time for Spikes. Spikes might also take a lesson from new teammate Ochocinco on tweeting: Quality > quantity.
Taylor Price – Price was the breakout star from Thursday’s game against the Jaguars. He was finally able to show why he was a such a highly regarded WR coming out of Ohio. While the skills are obviously there, I’d caution fans to not get too riled up about performance during preseason action. Let’s not forget Michael Bishop, shall we?
Price has missed practice this week and will most likely not be playing against the Bucs Thursday night. There’s going to be a battle for roster spots at WR this year. As long as Price can get past his injury, I’d expect him to contribute this season for the Patriots.
Aaron Hernandez – Hernandez is one of my favorite players on the Patriots, so sometimes it’s hard for me to write and discuss him rationally. Though he had some fumbling issues in game one, he still showed off his elite athleticism for his size and his precise route running.
With Hernandez on the roster, I can’t see why the Patriots would need to keep 7 WRs. Hernandez was basically a wide receiver last year and it seems as if his transition to that position is continuing this year. During training camp, he’s more prone to break off into pass catching drills with the WRs than he is to block with the TEs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team keep 4 TEs and only 6 WRs which might mean the end for Brandon Tate.
Zoltan Mesko – The punter has no competition in training camp which shows how much confidence the team has in him. If Mesko sticks around for a long time I’ll have no problem with the 5th round pick they used on him.
Brandon Deaderick – Deaderick started four games for the Patriots last season and looked impressive at times for a late 7th round pick before his four game suspension. He’s been out for all of training camp after having shoulder surgery in January. I’d expect Deaderick to be kept on the PUP list to start the season for depth purposes.
Kade Weston – Weston missed all of last season on injured reserve. The second year pro didn’t stand out in the Patriots first preseason game and might be a candidate for the practice squad if he can clear waivers.
Thomas Austin – Austin struggled against the Jaguars after coming in at center. I wouldn’t expect him to be kept for the 53 man roster
Buddy Farnham – An interesting player because he saw time at Wide Receiver and Safety last Thursday. I would expect him to be a practice squad player in 2011.
Steve Maneri – The college tight end showed a lot of promise last Thursday playing at RT. His athleticism really showed on a couple of runs pulling from the tackle position. At 6’6” and only 290 lbs. he, like Nate Solder, could afford to gain some mass. (Editor’s note – some reports have him tipping the scales at over 300 now) He’s a prospect worth keeping around as I doubt he would make it through waivers onto the practice squad.