NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
As the New England Patriots begin preparing for their 2013 campaign, it’s time to take a look at five of the most intriguing veteran players on New England’s roster; whether or not these players develop should have a significant impact on New England’s plans for the future, as all five remain unknown quantities entering the season.
1. RB Shane Vereen
After a debut season in which he recorded just twenty-six snaps, receiving a total of fifteen carries over two games, Shane Vereen’s offensive role was expected to increase in his sophomore campaign. It did, but not as much as many expected: Vereen was on the field for 217 snaps in 2012 (including the playoffs), carrying the ball 73 times for 308 yards and four touchdowns while adding fifteen receptions for 254 yards and three touchdowns on nineteen targets. Vereen’s output was impressive considering his low snap count, but he still has yet to produce like a second-round draft pick.
Danny Woodhead took 456 snaps last season; now that Woodhead’s signed with San Diego, we should see significantly more of Vereen in 2013. Ideally, he’ll develop into an effective complement to Stevan Ridley; a third straight season with limited playing time would likely indicate that New England’s coaching staff is unhappy with the way Vereen has developed.
2. OL Marcus Cannon
Marcus Cannon remains something of a mystery in New England, as he saw the field for only 182 snaps in 2012, primarily at offensive tackle. Now that Sebastian Vollmer has been re-signed, Cannon’s future with the team likely lies at offensive guard, where his tantalizing combination of size (6’5”, 358 pounds), length (34” arms), speed (5.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and strength (33 reps on the bench) could make him a long-term starter.
Logan Mankins is firmly entrenched as the organization’s starting left guard, but the incumbent starter at right guard, Dan Connolly, could be improved upon. Connolly’s contract is somewhat generous, so this appears to be an excellent opportunity to examine Cannon’s aptitude at the position. Cannon is a cheaper option with significantly more upside, so it makes sense for the Patriots to work him onto the field in 2013; if Cannon impresses at right guard, New England’s offensive line should be solidified for years to come.
3. DE Jake Bequette
Although Jake Bequette assembled three years of quality production in the SEC, his play recognition and his awareness appeared raw on tape, so it was unsurprising that he was on the field for just 29 snaps in 2012. However, the fact that his playing time was eclipsed by undrafted free agent Justin Francis, who played 302 snaps for the Patriots last year, is more concerning.
With starting left end Rob Ninkovich entering the final year of his contract, it would be nice to see what Bequette has to offer in his second season; an encouraging performance would allow New England to get cheaper and younger at the position, while a lack of refinement would increase the importance of re-signing Ninkovich. Bequette will have to compete with Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, and 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Buchanan in order to see the field.
4. CB Ras-I Dowling
The addition of Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft doesn’t bode well for 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling, whose career has been derailed by injuries. Dowling managed just 83 snaps in 2012, down from the meager 93 snaps he appeared on the field for in 2011 before landing on injured reserve. To compound concerns about Dowling’s inability to remain on the field, New England’s coaching staff has appeared hesitant to play him even when healthy.
That reluctance is somewhat bizarre considering his level of play while on the field, which has been encouraging (10/16, 123 yards, no touchdowns.) Dowling’s physical tools suggest starting potential, but he may not even be a lock for the roster at this point because of his unreliability. His only chance at significant playing time in 2013 may be a consequence of multiple absences at cornerback.
5. DB Tavon Wilson
New England’s decision to select little-known Illinois defensive back Tavon Wilson with the 48th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft was highly criticized for its perceived lack of value, but thus far the choice has turned out to be significantly more reasonable than anticipated. As a rookie, Wilson was on the field for 500 snaps, including four starts he made in the middle of the season (from New England’s victory over Denver in week five through their victory over St. Louis in week eight.) Wilson appeared relatively comfortable in coverage and had the awareness to record four interceptions on the season, recovering a pair of fumbles as well.
However, whether or not Wilson has starting potential remains to be seen; he lacks ideal top-end speed and fluidity, and had some trouble getting the proper depth in his zone drops, resulting in four touchdown passes allowed. During the offseason, New England added additional competition at the position in Adrian Wilson and third-round pick Duron Harmon, meaning Wilson will have to show more as a sophomore to maintain his snap count.