NEPD Editor: Doug Kyed
Since my last roster projection, the Patriots have played their first preseason game, lost a linebacker for the season and I attended another week of training camp.
So what does that mean? A lot of changes are in order. Once again, I’ve completely blown up my prediction and started all over again.
My roster projection and Sunday training camp notes after the jump.
QB: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
Mallett has looked shaky thus far in the preseason. He struggled against the Saints behind a depleted and young offensive line, and has been sailing passes all month at practice. It’s good to have Brian Hoyer around as a rock behind Tom Brady. He hasn’t flashed this preseason, but he’ll still be #2 on the depth chart.
RB: Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen
We got a bit of a surprise on Thursday night when Bolden showed up against the Saints before Vereen. While Vereen did look quite a bit better, Bolden was still taking second team snaps above Vereen at practice, so it was no fluke.
Vereen will need to continue to impress if he hopes to pass Bolden. At this point, it would be fair to say he’s on the roster bubble. He made a nice leaping catch for a touchdown over Marquice Cole’s head Sunday at practice.
WR: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater
It looks like Donte Stallworth is here to work, he was in for extra reps after practice, and he also appears to be getting a lot of time both at practice and in game. I think it would be smart to carry just five WRs since Hernandez can play the position, but I have a feeling the Pats will carry six.
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Alex Silvestro
In this scenario, I have neither Fells or Shiancoe getting healthy before the season starts. We don’t have any idea how serious either player’s injuries are, so I’ll play it safe and have neither make the team. Silvestro has looked surprisingly effective as a converted tight end, he can contribute on special teams and he has the added layer of versatility as a former defensive end.
Gronkowski was a surprise absentee from practice today. He was on the sidelines in street clothes.
OT: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Nick McDonald
McDonald has been getting plenty of reps at tackle since Robert Gallery retired, and he was getting first team snaps Sunday at guard in a rotation with Dan Connolly and Donald Thomas in place of Brian Waters. With this scenario, I have Vollmer starting the season on PUP and they’ll need the extra tackle behind Solder and Cannon.
OG: Logan Mankins, Brian Waters, Donald Thomas, Jeremiah Warren
It was great to see Mankins back at practice Sunday, even though he only participated early in practice. I doubt we’ll see him in full contact practices soon, but his quick return is still amazing. Thinking that Vollmer starts the season on the PUP, the Pats will need to carry a 9th offensive lineman and Warren gets the nod. He seems to be getting more reps than the other young linemen, he’s healthy, and I know the Patriots liked him leading up to the draft.
Check out my piece on Mankins’ return at NESN.com.
OC: Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly
The biggest glaring omission here is longtime Patriot Dan Koppen. Koppen was replaced after struggling early against the Saints and was replaced by Wendell, who immediately made the line look better. On Sunday, Wendell got all the first team snaps at center with Koppen playing with the young second team.
With Wendell, Connolly, McDonald and Warren all capable of playing center, it’s time for the least versatile interior lineman to go.
DT: Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Jonathan Fanene
The Patriots are going smaller along the defensive line this year with more traditional 7-techs playing the elephant position on both sides of the line. That means less defensive tackles on this team. Fanene is going to need to get back on the practice field to not get passed by Marcus Harrison and Marcus Forston. Both looked impressive on Thursday.
DE/OLB: Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Trevor Scott, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette, Justin Francis
I have the Patriots carrying six DEs, which may seem like a lot, but we could see guys like Jones, Bequette and Francis getting snaps inside. They all possess the strength and size necessary to play 3-tech in smaller defensive fronts.
Scott may be a player on the roster bubble, even though he looked impressive against the Saints. The fact that he was doing it against the Saints third stringers makes that feat slightly less impressive.
LB: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Bobby Carpenter, Jeff Tarpinian, Tracy White
Dane Fletcher’s injury hurts, but he was likely going to be the team’s fifth linebacker anyway this season. That role gets filled by both Tarpinian and White, who can also contribute in place of Fletcher on special teams. Fletcher’s injury clearly weakens the linebacker depth, but that makes the Carpenter signing all the more necessary.
CB: Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Alfonzo Dennard
I wrote a piece on who I think the Patriots fifth cornerback will be on NESN. Below is an excerpt.
The Patriots played nine cornerbacks altogether last season, which is why that backup roster spot is so important. The obvious choice would be 2012 seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard, but he still hasn’t returned to action since injuring his hamstring in practice July 27. When Dennard does return, he’ll be behind the curve, having to catch up both in coverage and special teams. If he struggles, Will Allen, Marquice Cole, Ross Ventrone, Malcolm Williams and Derrick Martin will battle for the fifth spot behind Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling and Sterling Moore.
Check out the whole article on NESN.com.
S: Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, James Ihedigbo
It was a tough decision for me between Ihedigbo and Will Allen. Ihedigbo not only has experience in the Patriots defense, but he’s also running with the first team special teams. Allen would have provided better coverage ability and versatility.
ST: Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken
These guys aren’t going anywhere.
Sidenote: Mesko was lined up with the kickoff team on Sunday, not kicking, in coverage and Chandler Jones was laughing at him on the sideline. Mesko pointed at him and made the “throat slice” motion and Jones started cracking up.
Last three cuts: Dan Koppen, Gerard Warren, Deion Branch
Warren and Branch may not sign on with other teams at this point, and could be asked to come back to the Patriots if they were needed later in the season after injuries.
PUP List: Sebastian Vollmer, Daniel Fells, Myron Pryor, Jake Ballard, Markus Zusevics
We may not see this many guys on the PUP list, but I’m sure we’ll see at least a few of them. The PUP list immediately makes the Patriots depth better midway through the season.
Injured Reserve: Brad Herman, Jamey Richard
Practice Squad: Eric Kettani, Jeremy Ebert, Tyler Urban, Matt Kopa, Derek Dennis, Marcus Forston, Nate Ebner, Ross Ventrone