NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
The New England Patriots enter the season well-stocked with talent; unfortunately, only 53 of their players are eligible to make the opening day roster. A number of the players on roster are eligible for the practice squad, however, in what is expected to be a cutthroat competition.
This article will examine the players most deserving of practice squad spots, along with other practice-squad eligible players who may be able to oust some of the competition for a space.
RB Brandon Bolden
Bolden was a workhorse for the Rebels as a junior in 2010, but struggled to stay healthy as a senior and was additionally suspended along with three of his teammates for violating an unspecified rule, two factors which led to going undrafted. However, he makes smooth cuts, runs with some power, and could eventually contribute to New England’s committee of runners. In order to improve, Bolden must lower his pad level and become a more decisive runner.
He is one of the most desirable candidates for the practice squad but could also interest other teams looking for young running back depth on the waiver wire; New England would be wise to consider retaining him on the 53-man roster, especially if Joseph Addai appears to have lost a step.
WR Jeremy Ebert
New England drafted Ebert in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft following two years of quality production at Northwestern University (a combined 137 catches for 2,013 yards and 19 TD over his junior and senior seasons.) Considering the lack of youth at wide receiver in New England, a prospect with Ebert’s combination of size (5’11″, 200 pounds) and athleticism (4.38 in the 40-yard dash, 6.70 in the cone drill) could eventually develop into a valuable member of New England’s roster.
Ebert runs with power, is effective in the screen game, and lines up all over the field. However, the transition from college to New England’s complicated receiver responsibilities may force the Patriots to attempt to stash him on the practice squad, where other teams will unfortunately have the opportunity to sign him onto their active roster. With impressive performances in training camp and the preseason, Ebert could push Julian Edelman or even an aging veteran such as Deion Branch for a place on the 53-man roster. Ebert is currently on the physically-unable-to-play list.
OT Matt Kopa
New England traditionally carries at least a couple of offensive linemen on the practice squad, and Kopa’s combination of size (6’6″, 310 pounds) and intelligence (being a Stanford alumni) gives him the inside track on making the squad. Additionally, Kopa was named the practice squad player of the week on four separate occasions last year, which was tied for the fourth-highest total on the team (behind Markell Carter and Antwaun Molden, neither of whom are still on New England’s roster.)
Now that Matt Light has retired and Sebastian Vollmer was seriously injured last season, it would be wise to keep some offensive tackle depth on the practice squad.
OL Nick McDonald
Nick McDonald was named practice squad player of the week twice last season, and eventually made his way onto the active roster for four games in 2011, including two starts due to injuries at the center position. McDonald plays guard as well, which will help his cause.
He is well-versed in zone-blocking schemes and avoided committing a single penalty in his 106 regular-season snaps last year. Both Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen missed time with injuries last year, and New England may prefer to have another option waiting on the practice squad just in case.
DT Marcus Forston
Forston was considered the top defensive tackle recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com, but he was unable to capitalize on an impressive freshman campaign as a sophomore after injuring his ankle in 2009 and earning a medical redshirt. Forston returned to the starting lineup in 2010 and totaled 37 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and three sacks, which led to speculation that he could eventually be selected in the first or second round of the NFL Draft.
A season-ending knee injury limited Forston to just three appearances in 2011, but nonetheless he decided to declare for the NFL Draft and ended up going undrafted. Eventually, Forston could develop into a pass-rushing presence from the under-tackle position in New England’s four-man defensive fronts and may be worth keeping around thanks to his physical gifts and growth potential.
More practice squad possibilities are on page two.