Tim Tebow, LeGarrette Blount, Jermaine Cunningham Among Final Cuts in Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection

Tim TebowFOXBORO, Mass. — Training camp may be over for Patriots fans and media members, but Bill Belichick stressed Friday night that training camp is not over for the team.

After watching three weeks of training camp practices and two preseason games, though, NESN.com Patriots writers Doug Kyed and Luke Hughes have a pretty good idea of who will and who won’t be making the 53-man roster on Aug. 31.

While the position battle at wide receiver appears to be settled for now, we could still see some movement up and down the depth chart — and off the roster — at safety and defensive end. Injuries at key positions like cornerback and offensive line could have the Patriots keeping more players than usual at those spots in Week 1.

Take a look at how Kyed and Hughes see the Patriots’ roster shaking out in their 53-man roster projections below.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

Kyed: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett (2)

The Patriots may have spent some time installing some read-option plays for Tim Tebow, and it seems like a weird move to bring him in and not keep him, but after Friday night’s performance, I can’t see how the third-stringer makes the roster. Tebow won’t pass Mallett as the team’s backup and he’s not making enough progress in practice and in games to be worth keeping around. All 53 spots on the roster are important and keeping Tebow around would be a waste.

Hughes: Brady, Mallett (2)

Tim Tebow‘s mechanics and footwork have definitely improved during his two-plus months with the Patriots, but the results just haven’t been there yet. Throwing for negative yardage during two quarters of a preseason game certainly didn’t help his case, and there are still just too many questions to justify a roster spot right now. Then again, that could definitely change before Sept. 1.

RUNNING BACK

Kyed: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington (4)

LeGarrette Blount had the incredible 51-yard touchdown in the team’s first preseason game against the Eagles, but that may be his lasting legacy with the Patriots. Bolden offers more upside as a short-yardage/goal-line back and more value as a special-teamer.

RUNNING BACK

Hughes: Ridley, Vereen, Washington, LeGarrette Blount (4)

Bolden has had his share of eye-opening plays during camp, including a 25-yard run in the fourth quarter against the Buccaneers. Blount was the big winner in the first preseason game and, while Bolden looked good in game two, he hasn’t done enough to overtake the bigger Blount just yet. But the gap is closing.

WIDE RECEIVER

Kyed: Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater (6)

As long as all six players stay healthy, this unit seems to be set in stone right now. Kamar Aiken had some solid plays early in camp, but his play has tailed off lately. Quentin Sims has also been impressive, but the two players combined for just four total snaps in Friday night’s preseason game against the Buccaneers.

Hughes: Amendola, Boyce, Dobson, Edelman, Thompkins, Slater (6)

Forget a roster spot, because I think he’s a lock at this point, Thompkins is battling for a starting receiver role and right now he even has the inside track. Kamar Aiken still has an outside chance to land a spot as a depth receiver, but he hasn’t done enough lately to overtake Edelman or anyone else for that matter.

TIGHT END

Kyed: Zach Sudfeld, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui (4)

I have Rob Gronkowski starting the season on the PUP list until I hear otherwise. Evan Landi is not an upgrade over any of these players and while James Develin could be giving Hoomanawanui a run for his money in the H-back role, Hooman offers more versatility and a better track record.

Hughes: Ballard, Sudfeld, Fells, Hoomanawanui (4)

Rob Gronkowski looked like he was beefing back up by the end of training camp practices last week, which might mean he’s getting closer to a return. Let’s still consider that he’ll start the season on the PUP, forcing the Patriots to keep four tight ends not named Gronk to start the season. If his status changes, though, either Fells or Hooman could be in line to get the ax.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Kyed: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek, Markus Zusevics, Dan Connolly (8)

With so many injuries along the offensive line, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Patriots start the season with nine offensive linemen. If a ninth player makes the roster, it would likely be Josh Kline. But I also have to assume Cannon, Connolly and Zusevics will get healthy sooner than later. Zusevics and Connolly seem the closest to getting healthy at this point.

Hughes: Solder, Mankins, Wendell, Connolly, Vollmer, Svitek, Cannon, Zusevics (8)

Svitek’s versatility, playing both guard and tackle during the preseason, makes him a valuable asset, especially with lingering health questions with both Cannon and Connolly. Zusevics hasn’t been healthy enough to prove his worth just yet, but no one among the Chris McDonald, Josh Kline and Brice Schwab crew has established themselves enough to overtake his spot on the roster. So, Zusevics keeps his job for now.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE END

Kyed: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Marcus Benard, Jermaine Cunningham, Michael Buchanan (6)

Even if Cunningham gets healthy a day before the season starts, he would be worth keeping over Jake Bequette at this point. Bequette doesn’t offer Cunningham’s versatility and he was almost completely invisible against Tampa Bay, especially when he was doubled while playing the five-technique defensive end in a three-man front.

Hughes: Jones, Ninkovich, Francis, Buchanan, Benard (5)

Cunningham’s absence during the last few weeks has brought his roster spot into question. With no return date in sight and Francis, Buchanan and Benard all doing a good job filling the void, Cunningham may be on the outs. Jake Bequette has been the equivalent of a ghost once again this preseason, too, and that won’t bode well for the 2012 third-round pick come final cuts.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Kyed: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Marcus Forston, Cory Grissom (4)

The Patriots lack depth at defensive tackle, but Forston and Grissom have been making steady improvements since camp opened. Joe Vellano has shown some ability to get after the passer from inside, but he could be a practice squad candidate. The Patriots could elect to keep just three defensive tackles since they use a defensive end on third down, but there’s little chance a guy like Grissom could clear waivers to make it down to the practice squad. And the Patriots need to store at least one able body if there are any injuries. Armond Armstead should start the season on the non-football injury list.

Hughes:  Wilfork, Kelly, Forston, Grissom (4)

Armstead doesn’t figure to be back to full health anytime soon, even though he did make an appearance in the Patriots’ locker room — looking a bit thin — after Friday’s game against the Buccaneers. The chance is there for undrafted rookies like Grissom, Vellano or Anthony White to be that fourth interior lineman. Even in limited action, Grissom has looked like the best option so far.

LINEBACKER

Kyed: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais (6)

This is one of the Patriots’ deepest positions and it would be wise to keep all six players. Beauharnais has proven to be a solid special teams player who flashes his athleticism on defense during preseason games. Fletcher doesn’t appear to have lost a step after tearing his ACL last preseason.

Hughes: Mayo, Spikes, Hightower, Collins, Fletcher, Beauharnais (6)

Beauharnais can be a good depth linebacker and has special teams value. Bill Belichick loves to have a versatile linebacker like Beauharnais on the roster and should use him in the same way he did with Tracy White and Larry Izzo in the past.

CORNERBACK

Kyed: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Marquice Cole (5)

It might be time to finally cut bait with Ras-I Dowling. He’s one of the most talented cornerbacks on the roster, but he just cannot stay healthy. The Patriots are giving Ryan a ton of looks in practice and preseason, and he’s shown enough to prove he would be able to fill in for Talib, Dennard or Arrington in a game. Cole is a valuable special teamer with decent slot coverage skills.

Hughes: Talib, Dennard, Arrington, Ryan, Ras-I Dowling, Cole (6)

Dowling’s inability to stay healthy, which includes this preseason, made me at least ponder whether he deserved a roster spot. But, after a few moments, I decided it’s still too early to sever ties. Justin Green and Brandon Jones have both had their highs and lows in camp, and both seem like good practice squad candidates. But neither is ready for a place on the 53-man roster right now.

SAFETY

Kyed: Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, Steve Gregory (5)

Booting Dowling allows the team to keep Gregory on the roster. Harmon has looked good during practice and he flashed in the preseason game against the Eagles, but he took a step back against the Buccaneers, arriving late on a couple deeper passes and taking bad angles in the run game and special teams. I still think the rookie gets a decent amount of snaps on defense this season, but keeping Gregory around as insurance is not a bad idea.

Hughes: McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Harmon, Gregory, Tavon Wilson (5)

Tavon Wilson has been the worst of the group this preseason, but, while cutting a third-round pick like Bequette didn’t take much sweat, giving up on a second-round pick just one year later might be crossing the line. His inability to establish a real presence deep in the secondary leaves the Patriots’ thin at safety and makes the need for Gregory even greater, securing the veteran’s spot, too.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kyed: Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken (3)

Ryan Allen looked impressive in the Patriots’ first preseason game, but Mesko outpunted him all last week.

Hughes: Gostkowski, Mesko, Aiken (3)

Allen looked to take the lead in the punter battle during the week, but Mesko was the better of the two against the Bucs and reclaimed the advantage. A 35-yard shank isn’t going to earn your keep, especially not when Mesko is booting it 50 yards with 4.5 seconds of hangtime.

FINAL SELECTIONS

LAST THREE IN

Kyed: Steve Gregory, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Bolden

Hughes: Steve Beauharnais, Cory Grissom, Tavon Wilson

LAST THREE OUT

Kyed: Tim Tebow, LeGarrette Blount, Josh Kline

Hughes: Brandon Bolden, Jermaine Cunningham, Tim Tebow