It’s really here. Training camp is finally upon us.
After months of not-so-patient waiting, the Patriots will take the practice fields at Gillette Stadium for the first time this weekend and start tuning up for the 2013 season.
Tom Brady is looking at an entirely new offense ahead of him this season, with no more Wes Welker or Aaron Hernandez as safety nets to throw to. He’ll have to get accustomed to his new toys, with Danny Amendola leading the way and a hoard of young players following closely behind.
The defense is already in good position, with Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty leading the way. The big question will surround Alfonzo Dennard, who could be suspended by the league, making cornerback an even more important position entering the season.
The Patriots have a bevy of roster questions heading into the first few days of camp, including that of Tim Tebow‘s future — err, if he has any — on the team. NESN.com NFL writers Luke Hughes and Doug Kyed took a hack at making heads or tails of the roster and figured they’d give a 53-man roster projection the old college try.
So, without anything further, have yourself a look at what the 2013 Patriots might just look like.
Kyed: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett (2)
Tebow won’t impress enough during training camp or the preseason for the Patriots to be willing to waste a roster spot on a third quarterback. Sorry, Tebowmaniacs.
Hughes: Brady, Mallett, Tim Tebow (3)
The Patriots brought Tebow in for a reason. Who knows what happens to Mallett after — or during — this season, so might as well get a backup into the system now.
Kyed: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, Brandon Bolden (4)
LeGarrette Blount just doesn’t offer enough as a goal line back to keep him on the team. When Bolden played last year, he looked great.
Hughes: Ridley, Vereen, Washington, LeGarrette Blount (4)
It’s a tough call between Bolden and Blount, but Bolden’s foot injury raises some concerns. So, Blount seems like the safer play — for now.
Kyed: Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, Michael Jenkins, Matthew Slater (6)
Amendola, Dobson, Edelman, Boyce and Slater seem to be almost sure things right now. The Patriots could either elect not to carry a sixth wide receiver or decide between Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins, Kenbrell Thompkins and a bevy of other options. Until we know Dobson or Boyce can start, Jenkins makes the team.
Hughes: Amendola, Dobson, Boyce, Edelman, Slater, Lavelle Hawkins (6)
Starting training camp on the PUP isn’t a good sign for Edelman, so Hawkins serves as some insurance in the slot. As for Jenkins, I still believe his primary purpose is to push Dobson. I’m betting the young kid lives up to the expectation during camp, making Jenkins expendable.
Kyed: Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui (4)
In this situation, we have Rob Gronkowski starting the season on the PUP list. Therefore, Ballard, Sudfeld, Fells and Hoomanawanui all make the team. Those players will have six weeks to audition, and the weakest link will be cut for Gronk.
Hughes: Ballard, Sudfeld, Fells, Hoomanawanui (4)
I figure Rob Gronkowski will start the season on the PUP, giving the Patriots an extra spot on the 53-man roster — well, until Week 6. Fells is the closest thing the Patriots have to an Aaron Hernandez clone, so they’ll try to utilize his skill set to fit their playbook. Hooman is extra insurance in case Gronk has a setback or Ballard can’t get back to 100 percent.
Kyed: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek, Marcus Cannon, Markus Zusevics, Nick McDonald (9)
I could see an undrafted rookie making the team over Zusevics or McDonald. There’s going to be a position battle for the starting right guard spot between Connolly and Cannon and a roster battle for the eighth and possibly ninth spots.
Hughes: Solder, Mankins, Wendell, Connolly, Vollmer, Svitek, Cannon, Kevin Haslam (8)
Svitek and Zusevics would both fill the “swing tackle” criteria, meaning the Patriots only really need one of them. Haslam can play tackle, too, but is better fit at the guard spot, which could use some better depth.
Kyed: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan, Jermaine Cunningham (5)
Cunningham makes the squad over guys like Jake Bequette and Marcus Benard because he can play the five-technique defensive end role.
Hughes: Jones, Ninkovich, Francis, Buchanan, Cunningham, Jason Vega (6)
The versatility of guys like Cunningham, Vega and Francis gets them on the final roster under the presumption that they’ll be playing more 3-4 base in 2013.
Kyed: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Marcus Forston (4)
Armstead’s health is a concern, because we don’t know what’s going on there, but there aren’t a whole lot of other options for the fourth interior lineman. Cory Grissom and Joe Vellano are talented undrafted rookies, though.
Hughes: Wilfork, Kelly, Armstead (3)
Cunningham and Vega can both play on the interior, all but eliminating the need for an extra defensive tackle. If Armstead isn’t fully healthy by Week 1, Forston would reclaim a spot.
Kyed: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais (6)
There could be a battle for the sixth linebacker spot. Beauharnais, Jeff Tarpinian, A.J. Edds, Mike Rivera and Niko Koutouvides can all battle it out.
Hughes: Mayo, Spikes, Hightower, Collins, Fletcher, Beauharnais (6)
Beauharnais was my last guy in. It’s not because he’s not talented, but his almost sole role will be on special teams. He’s the perfect fit for that Tracy White, Larry Izzo special teams role that Belichick loves so much.
Kyed: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Ras-I Dowling, Marquice Cole (6)
The Patriots will elect to carry a sixth cornerback rather than a fifth safety since Dennard’s status is up in the air and Cole can play safety in a pinch.
Hughes: Talib, Dennard, Arrington, Ryan, Dowling, Cole (6)
The uncertainty surrounding Dennard makes Cole an almost necessity, at least early in the season. His ability to play safety, which he showed during the spring, also gives the Patriots some added versatility in the secondary.
Kyed: Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon (4)
Harmon makes the team over Gregory, who served his role in 2012, but the position has been improved upon since.
Hughes: McCourty, Wilson, Wilson, Harmon (4)
Steve Gregory was a tough cut, since he is a veteran leader, but Cole’s ability to play safety and Harmon’s expected emergence in camp just makes him extraneous.
Kyed: Steve Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken (3)
The mainstays stay in place.
Hughes: Gostkowski, Mesko, Aiken (3)
I’m still keep two eyes locked firmly on rookie punter Ryan Allen. He was damn good at Louisiana Tech, and Mesko is entering a contract year.
LAST THREE IN
Kyed: Beauharnais, Cole, McDonald
Hughes: Beauharnais, Haslam, Vega
LAST THREE OUT
Kyed: Bequette, Gregory, Benard
Hughes: Forston, Gregory, Jenkins