FOXBORO, Mass. — Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton represent the future of the Patriots' linebacking corps, but the team is still working hard to evaluate the bottom portion of the depth chart that will get them through 2010.
Teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players by Saturday afternoon, and New England's coaching staff is still staring in the face of a number of tough choices. Head coach Bill Belichick and linebackers coach Matt Patricia might have the longest meeting on that subject.
Jerod Mayo, Tully Banta-Cain, Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton, Derrick Burgess, Jermaine Cunningham
Tyrone McKenzie, Rob Ninkovich, Marques Murrell, Thomas Williams, Pierre Woods, Eric Alexander
At one point or another in the last month, all six of these players were projected to make the 53-man roster. Ninkovich is probably the safest among the group because he has been reliable as a defensive backup, and he is also valuable in a variety of special teams roles, including backup long snapper.
McKenzie had a hot start to New England's offseason camps, but he quickly fell behind Spikes and it's unclear where he lies among the next tier of inside linebackers that includes Williams and Alexander. McKenzie has potential, judging by his excellent tackling ability he displayed throughout college, his learning curve at the NFL level appears to be steeper than we might have originally anticipated.
There will also be a decision to make between Woods and Murrell. Woods has proven his worth on special teams, and he also took plenty of snaps with the first-team defense in 2009. However, Murrell has been higher on the depth chart at outside linebacker, even if his performance has dropped off since the preseason opener against the Saints.
This is the most inflated bubble on the roster, and there is a great deal of uncertainty — from who's in and who's out, to how many linebackers the Patriots will choose to keep. Whether it's as few as eight or as many as 10, this will spell the end of the line for at least two bubble players. It could be the end of the line for stalwarts Woods or Alexander, or newcomers with potential like McKenzie or Williams.
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