Patriots Have Few 2014 Roster Locks Despite 2013 Success (Mailbag)

Brandon Browner, Malcolm ButlerOnly a handful of New England Patriots players can rest on their laurels this offseason, knowing they have a roster spot locked up for 2014.

Competition will be the name of the game for the Patriots during minicamp and training camp, especially at key positions like quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive tackle. The team has an overabundance of talent at those positions and only so many roster spots available. That competition typically breeds success, but it also could cause some nervousness for players not used to being on the roster bubble.

Patriots fans already are thinking about how the roster will break down in 2014, so let’s take a look at which players could be on the outside looking in once September rolls around.

@DougKyedNESN Expectations for Gronk?
–@bruinsgirl33

At this point, it probably isn’t wise to assume Rob Gronkowski will be healthy for a full 16-game slate, but it seems his recovery from a torn ACL is going much better than last season’s back and forearm rehab.

It’s encouraging that Gronkowski has been present for the start of Patriots OTAs. Granted, he’s just warming up with the rest of the team, then going through some half-speed drills before disappearing into the Dana-Farber Field House with the rest of the mending Patriots, but he’s on the field at all, and that’s important.

It’s too early to predict whether Gronk will be back for Week 1 or even training camp, but it’s possible that his knee could be the least of his injury concerns in 2014, with his forearm and back still bigger issues.

@DougKyedNESN – do you think the signings of Fleming & Anderson have addressed the weakness at LB?
–@LukeTansley2

Not entirely. I think Darius Fleming and James Anderson add depth to the Patriots’ linebacker corps, but neither player is a lock to make the 53-man roster. The Patriots are sufficiently deep at linebacker now, though, with Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins starting, Anderson No. 4 on the depth chart and Rob Ninkovich able to move from defensive end to strong-side linebacker at a moment’s notice.

Last year’s depth was much better, however, with Collins as the No. 4 linebacker and Dane Fletcher as a super sub.

@DougKyedNESN Who has the raddest shark shirt on the Pats beat?
–@BenjeeBallgame

Me, duh.

@DougKyedNESN Who are your top 3 surprise cuts before the season begins? Also, Shark shirt > .. I have shark slippers. so yeah. The cuts.
–@AverageJoe1993

Depending on what is considered a surprise cut, I think there could be many before the season begins. The Patriots have reason to be excited about the talent on their roster, but for a team that just made the AFC Championship Game, there aren’t many roster locks.

There could be surprise cuts at running back, wide receiver, offensive line and defensive tackle. If the Patriots want to clear salary-cap room, then guard Dan Connolly could be on the bubble. Hopes are high for defensive lineman Armond Armstead, but he has to get healthy to make the team. If he can’t, he could be on the outside looking in.

Anderson, veteran defensive end Will Smith and safety Patrick Chung all are fighting for roster spots, too.

@DougKyedNESN with 3 qbs and 9 OL ( Starters cannon plus 3 rookies draft) do you see we ending up with two dead spot on 53 man roster?
–@TuniKs7

I don’t think it’s necessarily cut and dry that the Patriots will carry three quarterbacks or nine offensive linemen. Rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo struggled on Thursday during OTAs, but Ryan Mallett didn’t look much better. If Garoppolo outplays Mallett and proves he can pick up the playbook, he could be Tom Brady’s backup in 2014.

Plenty of roster spots along the offensive line also are up for grabs. Starters Nate Solder, Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer have spots locked down, but it could be argued that the 11 other players at that position are fighting for five or six spots.

It would be rare for a fourth-round draft pick to be cut before September, but it’s not entirely unheard of, so even rookies Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming could be competing for spots on the 53-man roster.

@DougKyedNESN with potentially 7 WRs making this team, what are some creative ways the Pats could use to get them on the field often?
–@MTM558

Teams like to find a consistent “starting” unit, but I think the Patriots could mix and match their wide receivers based on matchups. If a team defends slot receivers well, then maybe Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola won’t be on the field together for an entire game. If an opposing team defends the edges better, then maybe the Patriots could find snaps for Edelman, Amendola and Josh Boyce (or Jeremy Gallon) to wreak havoc in the middle of the field.

Regardless of who makes the roster, the Patriots’ wide receiver corps should be much better in 2014 than it was last season.

@DougKyedNESN What do you think Seth Rollins new gear should look like?
–@zacxwolf

Now it’s time for my friend, Zac Wolf, who knows nothing about sports, to ask me wrestling-related questions.

Evolution should just make Seth Rollins wrestle in suit pants like Corporate Kane. They also should make him get rid of that stupid bleach splotch in his hair.

@DougKyedNESN Which do you prefer for WWE watching @PopeyesChicken Waffle tenders or @MillersAleHouse Zinger Mntn Melt? cc @DiGiornoPizza
–@zacxwolf

Even though it’s essentially served in a trough when ordered for takeout, I have to go with the Miller’s Ale House zinger mountain melts. There’s a reason Miller’s is a NESN staple.

Popeyes’ chicken waffle tenders are delicious, however.

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