NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The first week plus of training camp is already in the books and the roster is still far from a finished product. Jobs aren’t won during the first week of training camp, but they can be lost via lack of production, injury, or other players making the most of their opportunity.
In the Patriots case there hasn’t been a dramatic change in the roster projection. However there are a few minor changes made since the beginning of camp. Here is my 2.0 version of the Patriots projected 2014 roster along with a few thoughts on position battles up to this point.
Ryan Mallett is in the midst of his best training camp yet and he is worth way more to the Patriots than any other football team. Jimmy Garappolo is a long term project and won’t be ready to win football games if Brady goes down. Mallett isn’t going anywhere right now. Carrying three Quarterbacks means that the Patriots have to sacrifice a player at another position, likely RB or TE.
Running Backs (4)
The top three backs are etched in stone and their roles will be fairly well defined. The fourth RB spot will be one to watch closely during pre-season games and joint practices. I’m not entirely convinced the 4th RB is on the roster at this point and I’m not convinced they carry four true RB into the season. Most projections have Brandon Bolden making the team, but I think Finch can offer something those other backs can’t and that’s his ability to change the game on return units. The fact he’s working as one of the top returnmen, a major area of weakness in past years, bodes well for his chances. Finch will stick around on the practice squad if he doesn’t make the roster.
Develin should see an increased role in the offense moving forward. Over the last year he’s improve as much as anyone on the entire roster. I see him transitioning into an “all-purpose” role on offense. While he can excel as a traditional blocking Fullback on run downs, he can shift to the line of scrimmage as a blocking Tight End in other situation. His versatility may allow the Patriots to only carry two Tight Ends on the active roster to start the season.
Tight End (2)
It’s risky to carry only two Tight Ends on the roster, but as of today there isn’t a third TE on the roster worthy of carrying.
Wide Receiver (6)
The only question surrounding this group is whether or not Aaron Dobson begins the season on PUP. At some point in camp the decision has to be made as to give Dobson six extra weeks to heal and regain his strength/conditioning or to get him up to speed with limited time until games. When does that decision come? My guess is that if Dobson hasn’t taken the field by third week of the preseason then the Patriots will opt to have him start on PUP. The other five receivers are roster locks.
Offensive Line (9)
Nate Solder (LT)
Logan Mankins (LG)
Sebastian Vollmer (RT)
Marcus Cannon (RG, RT)
Bryan Stork (OC)
Cameron Fleming (RT)
Dan Connolly (OC, RG)
Josh Kline (OG/OC)
Jon Halapio (OG)
Last year multiple UDFA were signed after cutdown day to add depth to the line. That won’t be the case this year as it’s a deep group across the board. It will be tough to carry 10 offensive linemen with how the roster is currently constituted, so Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell are fighting for one roster spot. Connolly has a bigger cap hit, but also adds more versatility than Wendell.
Connolly can start the season at Center and give way to Bryan Stork at some point later in the season. Stork has missed the last week with an undisclosed injury, but don’t count out Bill Belichick naming him the starting center. Belichick has been bold with his choices along the offensive line before and that could be another example of his boldness.
Defense End/Edge Rushers (5)
This position is still light in depth, especially if Will Smith doesn’t return to full health. Zach Moore will spend the season adjusting to the NFL game and probably doesn’t make the game day roster. The team needs to get contributions out of Smith and Buchanan or they’ll have to go outside the organization for help. Once Dominique Easley returns to health I believe he can rotate into the mix in certain schemes.
Defensive Tackles (5)
Deep and versatile position grouping, especially once Easley gets healthy. The return to health of Wilfork and Kelly will dramatically improve the run defense, while the explosive Easley will improve the interior pass run with the help of 2nd year player Chris Jones. Each player brings a different skill-set to the table and allows Coach Belichick to diversify the front seven looks throughout the game. Joe Vellano is a tough cut after a yeoman-like rookie season.
Carrying only five Linebackers is a little light, but unless injuries strike it’s a viable scenario. The choice comes down to a 6th LB like Chris White or a 5th Safety like Tavon Wilson or rookie Jemea Thomas. Chris White is much more likely to clear waivers and be available for the “Foxboro Shuttle” during the season.
The strongest positional grouping on the roster. Brandon Browner won’t count against the 53-man roster during his four game suspension, giving another player an extra four weeks to stick around. The Patriots could opt to carry an extra corner or use Browner’s roster spot on a Safety until he returns.
This is the toughest position to trim down. In this scenario Jemea Thomas gets the roster spot vacated by Brandon Browner during his suspension. His ability to play multiple positions in the secondary, including slot cornerback gets him on the team. This is all contingent on Thomas returning to healthy and getting on the practice field before the 2nd or 3rd preseason game.
If Thomas’ injury is more serious the smart move is to stash him on IR and avoid exposing him to other teams. Patrick Chung over Tavon Wilson will be a bit controversial, but I feel that with all the youth and uncertainty at the position, Bill Belichick will want an established player to add depth. Tavon Wilson makes the team if Jemea Thomas’ injury is serious or if Patrick Chung has lost a step on coverage units.
Each player is firmly entrenched on the roster. Slater is one of the most valuable players on the roster despite his inability to contribute anything on offense. Gostkowski is coming off a career season and is entering his final year under contract.
Tavon Wilson (S)
Chris White (LB)
Joe Vellano (DT)
Brandon Bolden (RB)
Ryan Wendell (OC)
Jake Bequette (DE)
DJ Williams (TE)
Dax Swanson (CB)