Come late August, 37 players on the Patriots current 90-man roster will be mighty disappointed. They’ll either wind up cut, on injured reserve, the PUP list or the practice squad.
There will be plenty of positional battles throughout training camp, not only for different slots on the depth chart, but just to make the 53-man roster.
We’re looking at five players who may be on that bubble between getting cut and just making the cut. There’s not a position on the team that won’t have a battle his summer, but wide receiver, pass rush, linebacker, cornerback and running back will be especially competitive.
Check out five players who may be on the roster bubble this offseason.
Lavelle Hawkins: The Patriots certainly don’t have the most impressive set of wide receivers in the NFL going into the 2013 season, but the position is deep and unpredictable. The slot position, though, is stacked, with Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce and Hawkins all able to take on that role.
With an injury-prone reputation preceding Amendola and Edelman, Hawkins could be an important piece this season. If Amendola or Edelman go down during the preseason, Hawkins could start the season in their place.
Hawkins has had success in the slot before, especially in 2011. He received 24 targets and pulled in 19 receptions for 164 yards. He did not have any drops that season in that “Y” role.
Unfortunately, Hawkins has an injury history of his own. He’s dealt with foot and ankle injuries the past two seasons and had trouble climbing up the Titans’ depth chart in his first three seasons.
If everyone stays healthy, Hawkins looks to be the odd man out. Amendola is definitely making the team, Edelman knows the playbooks better than any other receiver on the roster and Boyce has more upside than Hawkins. But Hawkins looked solid during OTAs and minicamp and appeared to be grasping the system quickly.
Even if Hawkins doesn’t make the 53-man roster, he’s well worth keeping on the speed dial with the Patriots’ injury history at the position.
Marcus Benard: Benard was an unheralded signing back in January, but if given the opportunity, could play a big role in 2013. In 2011, the Patriots took a shot on Mark Anderson, who had an impressive rookie year in 2006 before struggling to pile up many sacks between 2007 and 2010. The signing worked out just fine for the Patriots as Anderson pulled in 10 sacks. (It also worked out great for Anderson, who then signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract with the Bills.)
In 2012, the Patriots tried to replicate the success they had with Anderson by picking up Trevor Scott, who had 12 sacks his first two seasons in the league, then struggled in 2010 and 2011. The experiment didn’t go quite as well with Scott, who only pulled in three sacks for the Patriots in 2012.
Benard could either not make the team, be like Scott and play sparingly or truly pay off like Anderson. Benard had 7 1/2 sacks during his second year in the league with the Browns before an Oct. 10, 2011 car accident derailed his career.
As Oliver Thomas of NEPatriotsDraft points out, Benard could be a successful pass rusher for the Patriots, but likely won’t add much in the coverage or run defense department. There’s plenty of competition at defensive end and outside linebacker for New England, but none of Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan, Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis or Jason Vega are elite, prototypical sub rushers.
In 2010, Benard ranked ninth out of 35 3-4 outside linebackers in Pro Football Focus’ pass rush productivity stat. He rushed the passer 225 times and had 32 total pressures (seven sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 14 hurries).
In 2009, Benard ranked fifth out of 113 4-3 defensive ends in pass rush productivity, pulling in 13 pressures (four sacks, four hits and five hurries) in 89 pass rush snaps. It was a small sample, but an impressive feat nonetheless.
Benard has an uphill battle to make the roster, but if he can etch out a role, he could pile up sacks and pressures in limited opportunities.
A.J. Edds: Like at the pass rush position, there’s plenty of competition for Edds, but it’s obvious at this point that the Patriots really like what they see in the former Iowa linebacker. Edds was taken in the fourth round of the 2010 season, but he’s had some terrible luck since. He has suffered two torn ACLs, one in 2010 during training camp and another in 2012 during training camp.
Edds was with the Patriots in 2011 and played in one game before being put on the practice squad. The Colts signed him from New England, and he played in two more games that season, including playing 58 snaps at middle linebacker against the Patriots in Week 13.
The 6-foot-4, 256-pound defender’s greatest strength is his coverage ability, which he flashed at Iowa and in limited time in the NFL. The Patriots struggled in that area the past few seasons.
It will be difficult for Edds to crack the roster, though. The Patriots are bringing back their starters at the position in Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower and drafted Jamie Collins in the first round. Dane Fletcher is coming back from injury, Rob Ninkovich can play linebacker and Steve Beauharnais was selected in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. Edds will be competing with Niko Koutouvides, Mike Rivera, Jeff Tarpinian and Beauharnais for a spot on the roster.
Edds will have to prove he can stay healthy, he can play special teams and that he can still contribute in coverage after multiple knee injuries if he hopes to make the team.
Marquice Cole: It looked like Cole was doing anything he could during minicamp and OTAs to make the Patriots roster. That included playing a lot of safety next to Tavon Wilson. Cole has been a cornerback in the past and looked good playing the slot last season.
The former Jet faces an uphill battle to make the roster with a stacked New England secondary. If he hopes to make the team as a cornerback, he will be competing with third-round rookie Logan Ryan and third-year player Ras-I Dowling. If he hopes to make it as a safety, he will be competing against third-round rookie Duron Harmon, second-year player Nate Ebner and veteran Steve Gregory.
Cole is great depth to have in the slot behind Kyle Arrington. Ryan may have to prove he can play that role for the Patriots to keep Cole off the roster.
LaGarrette Blount: Blount will be in a camp-long battle with Brandon Bolden. Both players will be trying to make the roster as Stevan Ridley‘s backup.
Blount has great size at 6-foot, 247 pounds, but he has trouble putting it to use. He struggles to get his pad level down in short-yardage situations and is best when asked to cut outside rather than finding holes in the middle of the defense.
Bolden looked great last season before being handed a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. One of Bolden and Blount will make the roster, we’ll just have to see who looks better during training camp and preseason.