FOXBORO, Mass. — Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Randy Moss and Brandon Spikes all shined Thursday during the Patriots' preseason opener against the Saints, but that’s not overly surprising stuff. Whether or not the big names and high draft picks play well, they're going to have a home on the 53-man roster.
Over the next three weeks, a few dozen players have much more uncertain futures, and they're sitting on the roster bubble. Let's take a look at a few of those players who either helped or hurt their stock in the first of four preseason games.
On the Rise
1. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis earned a surprising start and played all right, performing steadily in the way the Patriots have come to expect since he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008. Green-Ellis had 11 carries for 34 yards, and he made a crisp read during his six-yard touchdown run.
This is a make-or-break year for Green-Ellis, and it seems unlikely the Patriots would carry the same five running backs again. Thursday's start could have come for several reasons. First, it gave head coach Bill Belichick the best chance to make a good evaluation of Green-Ellis, as he worked with the first-team offense against the Saints' first-team defense. It also helped the Patriots rest the three older backs — Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk — and the added playing time could have raised Green-Ellis' trade value for a team looking to add a running back.
2. In the absence of rookie outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who didn’t dress for unknown reasons, Marques Murrell got the start and had a third-down sack to end the Saints' first offensive possession. Murrell finished with two defensive tackles and one stop on special teams. The Patriots are thin at outside linebacker, and Murrell looks to be right on that cut line.
3. Cornerback Terrence Wheatley had a team-high six solo tackles, and he stopped quarterback Chase Daniel for a four-yard loss on a third-down bootleg by the goal line in the fourth quarter. Wheatley's job looks safe at this point, even if he's only the fifth or sixth cornerback on the roster, and Thursday's showing helped validate his good training camp.
4. Inside linebacker Dane Fletcher has opened the eyes of many during training camp, and he was around the ball a lot Thursday, though he only registered two total tackles. It would be an absolute stunner if the undrafted free agent made the roster, but he'd look like a good catch for the practice squad. If he keeps improving over the next few weeks, though, another team might snag Fletcher off the waiver wire.
1. It was a poor night for the Patriots' backup offensive linemen, but tackle Mark LeVoir seemed to have an especially difficult time when he lined up on the right side. The Saints really targeted that part of the Pats' line when LeVoir was over there, and quarterback Brian Hoyer had to pick grass out of his teeth on a few occasions as a result. LeVoir is going to get a push by George Bussey and rookie Thomas Welch. And if the Patriots deem it necessary to carry additional interior linemen in lieu of tackles, LeVoir has to step it up to ensure he's able to keep his job.
2. Defensive lineman Ron Brace and wide receiver Torry Holt didn’t dress for the game, and Brace still hasn’t even passed his physical. With each passing day, it seems more and more unlikely Brace will make the team, and he might wind up on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve for the Patriots to hold onto their 2009 second-round investment.
Holt's biggest asset lies in his veteran savvy, route running and a chance to develop good veteran chemistry with Brady. If Holt, who has missed four consecutive padded practices, can't get on the field, he can't develop that rapport with the quarterback.