DE Alex Silvestro
Most well-known for replacing former Rutgers teammate Tiquan Underwood on New England’s 53-man roster in Super Bowl XLVI, Silvestro is a former undrafted free agent who played the five-technique position at Rutgers despite his lack of ideal size for the position at 6’3″ and 267 pounds.
Most recently, Silvestro improved his practice squad prospects by functioning as a tight end in OTAs; the four-time practice player of the week in 2011 appears a safe bet to make the practice squad in 2012.
LB Aaron Lavarias
Lavarias spent last season with the club and possesses interesting size (6’2″, 249 pounds) and athleticism (4.62 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day.) The former Idaho Vandal was a prolific pass rusher in college (52 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 10 hurries) during his senior season in 2010 and may eventually be able to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker.
LB Jeff Tarpinian
Jeff Tarpinian was able to make New England’s roster as an undrafted free agent largely based on his combination of athleticism and special-teams value after spending four seasons at Iowa under head coach Kirk Ferentz. Tarpinian appeared in seven games with the Patriots last season before being placed on injured reserve, but the team is hopeful that he can develop into a core special teams player and potentially even supplant special teams stud Tracy White at some point.
His size (6’3″, 240 pounds) may prevent him from being a key member of New England’s defensive units, and he battled durability concerns in collegiate (hand and neck), but Tarpinian’s impressive athleticism (4.54 in the 40-yard dash, 6.78 in the cone drill, 37″ vertical) may force New England to carry him on their final roster rather than the practice squad.
FS Ross Ventrone
Following in the footsteps of his older brother Ray, who was intermittently a member of New England’s active roster before moving onto Cleveland, Ross Ventrone has made frequent appearances on New England’s practice squad and active roster; he has famously been involved in 21 Patriots-related roster moves over the past year.
Ventrone’s lack of size (5’8″, 190 pounds) will likely prevent him from developing into a contributor on defense, but he could eventually find a place on the special teams units, as it is clear that head coach Bill Belichick enjoys having Ventrone within reach as a member of New England’s emergency list.
SS Nate Ebner
The Patriots’ selection of Ohio State special teams stud Nate Ebner in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft was considered a reach by many fans, but considering Ebner’s contributions on each of Ohio State’s special teams units and his outstanding combination of size (6’0″, 202 pounds), strength (23 reps on the bench press), athleticism (4.53 in the 40-yard dash, 6.59 in the three-cone drill, 39″ vertical leap), and intensity, Ebner could eventually develop into one of New England’s most valuable special teams players.
His contributions on coverage units may warrant a spot on the active roster, where he would not be subject to waivers.
FB Eric Kettani – Kettani has been a member of New England’s practice squad for the majority of the past three seasons, but is now the third-string fullback behind recent free agent signings Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta; the Patriots are unlikely to carry two fullbacks on roster during the season and will most likely have no use for a third.
WR Britt Davis – Davis is an intriguing prospect because of his size (6’3″, 210 pounds) and speed (4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash) but is unlikely to end up making the final roster because he has yet to contribute in the NFL since entering the league in 2009; he has previously been released by the Broncos and Jets. At Northern Illinois’ pro day in 2009, he posted a pedestrian three-cone drill time of 7.24 seconds.
TE Tyler Urban – Urban is an undrafted tight end who was previously cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; prototypical size for a tight end but lack of athleticism will make it difficult for him to emerge from New England’s tight end logjam, which currently includes Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, and Brad Herman (who is currently on injured reserve.)
OT Kyle Hix – Hix spent last season on injured reserve with New England, but may have a difficult time making the practice squad this season considering the success of Matt Kopa and the signing of former Iowa Hawkeye Markus Zusevics in undrafted free agency this season. Hix is a fairly athletic left tackle prospect but was criticized for his passivity in college and will need to show that he has fully rehabilitated from his injury last season in order to have a chance to make the practice squad.
OL Jeremiah Warren – Warren made 38 consecutive starts at offensive guard to end his collegiate career at South Florida and was awarded a spot on the All-Big East second-team in his final year; additionally, Warren drew interest as a potential center conversion prospect, where his size (6’4″, 330 pounds) stands out in comparison to New England’s traditionally-undersized personnel. Warren may find it difficult to supplant McDonald for a reserve center spot, but could appeal to New England in a capacity resembling that which Donald Thomas was assigned in 2011. Warren is currently on the non-football injury list after failing his physical.
DE Justin Francis – One of the five players who failed his physical at the start of training camp, Francis timed well in the three-cone drill (7.05 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.35 seconds) at the combine, but is undersized (6’2″ and 268 pounds) and may not possess the athleticism to stand up as an outside linebacker (4.90 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Rutgers’ pro day) despite playing a little bit of linebacker in college.
LB Mike Rivera – Rivera was a member of Chicago’s practice squad for a brief period in 2009 before moving to Tennessee, Green Bay, and Miami; he signed with the Patriots in November 2011 and was named practice player of the week three times, but the Patriots are currently loaded at inside linebacker and their eight practice squad spots may be better allocated elsewhere.
OL Markus Zusevics – Zusevics was coached by former Bill Belichick disciple Kirk Ferentz in college and is most notable for his versatility along the offensive line; Zusevics could potentially play either right tackle or offensive guard and is capable of making blocks at the second level.
His pedigree, versatility, size (6’5″, 305 pounds) and aggressive playing style likely would have earned him a spot in the mid-to-late rounds of the NFL Draft, but he suffered a pectoral injury at the combine and subsequently went undrafted. The injury may prove to be a blessing, because New England could potentially stash him on either injured reserve or the physically-unable-to-play list.