NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
Tonight marks the fourth and final preseason game for the 2012 Patriots. There’s still plenty of storylines to solve before the final cutdowns on Friday night and those roster bubble players will be who we’re watching the closest.
For the casual fan, the biggest question may be, will Tom Brady be playing? Here are ten things we’re looking for tonight.
1. Which players are expected to be inactive for Wednesday’s game?
Players reportedly missing from Monday’s practice included RB Shane Vereen, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, OL Nick McDonald and Matt Kopa, and LBs Brandon Spikes and Tracy White. There were additionally two players on the active roster who were not participating: RB Stevan Ridley and S Patrick Chung. Shiancoe, Kopa, and White have missed numerous consecutive practices and are very unlikely to play against the Giants. Shane Vereen and Nick McDonald were both injured during last week’s game and should be held out as well. Spikes and Chung may be able to play but it would be wise to leave them inactive for the last exhibition game of the season rather than risking further injury.
2. Will New England’s starters receive any playing time in the game?
The Patriots played against the Giants in last year’s preseason finale as well, and the first-team did receive some snaps; Tom Brady threw nine passes and additional starters on the offense and defense who played in the game included BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Aaron Hernandez, Patrick Chung, Andre Carter, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, and Vince Wilfork. Considering Bill Belichick’s level of unhappiness with the performance of the starting units this far, it would not be surprising if most starters played for at least a couple of drives in hopes that more exposure to game action would benefit the team in the regular season. Of course, minimizing the number of preseason injuries should also be a consideration.
3. Does New England carry three, four, or five running backs into the season?
Various Patriots running backs have been mentioned as potential surprise cuts as the final roster cutdown deadline looms. 2011 second-round pick Shane Vereen has struggled to stay on the field since joining the team last season, while Danny Woodhead was given a reduced role last year and has received relatively little playing time this preseason. Brandon Bolden was praised for his play throughout training camp but is averaging under 3.3 yards per carry in the preseason; his relative lack of quickness may force New England to try and sneak him through waivers and onto the practice squad. At this point a decision to exclude Vereen from the final roster would come as a surprise; Danny Woodhead’s versatility makes him a more likely candidate for the 53-man squad than Bolden, although New England may keep all five. The Patriots entered both the 2009 and 2010 seasons with five running backs on the roster.
4. Could Brandon Bolden or Eric Kettani make the team as a fullback?
One area where the Patriots had hoped to find a contributor for 2012 was at fullback. However, neither of the team’s signings – Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta – are currently on the active roster; Larsen is on injured reserve, while Fiammetta is on the left squad list. That opens the door for one of New England’s other candidates to make the roster. Eric Kettani has received some playing time during the preseason but is also practice squad eligible and may not have carved out a big enough role for the active roster. Coach Belichick was recently asked whether he would consider Brandon Bolden as a candidate to play fullback; Bolden could receive an opportunity to improve his chances of making the roster by receiving some playing time at fullback.
5. Will Jeremy Ebert, Jesse Holley, or Kerry Taylor be able to secure spots?
Mike Loyko’s historical roster breakdown reveals that coach Belichick has carried an average of 5.66 wide receivers into the regular season; with Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, and Matthew Slater considered locks to make the final roster, that leaves rookie seventh-round pick Jeremy Ebert, free agent signing Jesse Holley, and the recently-claimed Kerry Taylor as the final candidates for the sixth roster spot. Ebert is probably the player most likely to make the team, but he has yet to break out in the preseason with just five catches for 25 yards and a touchdown. Jesse Holley is the biggest option (6’2″, 220) and caught a touchdown last week but has yet to make another preseason grab, while we have yet to see Kerry Taylor in action for New England (he caught three passes for 44 yards with Minnesota.) At this time Ebert and Taylor are more realistically practice squad candidates; Belichick may have opted to release Jabar Gaffney in order to re-sign him when his 2012 salary is no longer fully guaranteed.