New England Patriots training camp is more than halfway over and the team’s first preseason game is less than a week away. That means that football season is finally creeping up.
Watching eight practices has given NESN.com NFL writers Doug Kyed and Luke Hughes more than enough to see which players have the best chances of making the Patriots’ 53-man roster out of the preseason. There have been certain players, like Kenbrell Thompkins and Marcus Benard, that have been surprise performers in training camp. While their chances to make the roster back in June and July looked slim, there’s a reason they’re getting increased reps in practice.
One of the biggest decisions Bill Belichick and company will have to make in late August will be whether or not to keep Tim Tebow. Kyed and Hughes are split on the decision.
Check out how NESN.com thinks the 53-man roster will look before any preseason games are played.
Kyed: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett (2)
The Patriots simply don’t need Tebow. Mallett is the backup and even if he leaves after this season, the Patriots don’t want Tebow to be Brady’s second-stringer. It’s likely Josh McDaniels and Belichick wanted to see what they could do to improve Tebow. While he’s shown some improvement since coming in, it’s not enough to waste the roster spot on a player who won’t suit up on game day.
Hughes: Brady, Mallett, Tim Tebow (3)
Tebow hasn’t looked good in practices so far, but I still think Belichick brought him in for a purpose. Mallett’s been too shaky to be the primary backup, too.
Kyed: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington (4)
Bolden looked much better than LeGarrette Blount before the second-year player became hampered by an unknown injury. Bolden has almost a month to recover, though. The Ole Miss product is much better suited to be Ridley’s backup and a goal line option.
Hughes: Ridley, Vereen, Washington, LeGarrette Blount (4)
We still haven’t seen enough of Brandon Bolden to give him the benefit of the doubt. Blount looks to be in good shape on the field, giving him the edge for now.
Kyed: Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater (6)
The Patriots brought in plenty of veteran options over the summer, but Donald Jones and Lavelle Hawkins are gone, and Michael Jenkins will be next, as long as the rookies can keep playing well. Edelman makes it for now, but Kamar Aiken has been impressive.
Hughes: Amendola, Dobson, Edelman, Boyce, Thompkins, Slater (6)
Thompkins has been steady throughout camp and is seeing extended time with the first team. Jenkins and Aiken still have a shot, but, if Dobson emerges, they both could become expendable.
Kyed: Zach Sudfeld, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui (4)
This may be the easiest group to predict. Rob Gronkowski will likely start the season on the PUP list and the only other tight end on the roster is undrafted free agent Brandon Ford, who has not been as impressive as Sudfeld. The only other possibility here is fullback James Develin, who has worked with the tight ends. He played defensive line at Brown and spent time with the Patriots in 2012.
Hughes: Ballard, Sudfeld, Fells, Hoomanawanui (4)
Gronkowski has been present at practices, but he still hasn’t made his debut out on the field. He’ll likely land on the PUP to start the season, making way for the four other tight ends to make the team.
Kyed: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek, Markus Zusevics, Tyronne Green (8)
Green will be a cheaper backup option than Dan Connolly. The Patriots keep around eight offensive linemen because of questions about durability.
Hughes: Solder, Mankins, Wendell, Dan Connolly, Vollmer, Cannon, Zusevics, Greene (8)
Green has been a standout among the offensive linemen in 1-on-1 drills, earning him a spot on the roster. Zusevics seems to have a leg up on Svitek in the competition, too.
Kyed: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Marcus Benard, Jermaine Cunningham, Michael Buchanan (6)
It’s likely the Patriots will do everything they can to get Jake Bequette on the 53-man roster, but if he’s not as good as Benard, Cunningham or Buchanan, he’ll have to be left off. With the Patriots showing more 3-4 looks this summer, a player like Cunningham is simply more valuable due to his versatility.
Hughes: Jones, Ninkovich, Francis, Buchanan, Benard, Cunningham (6)
Cunningham’s absence at practice over the past few days makes him a cut-line candidate. His ability to play on the inside gives him an advantage. Benard has beasted the competition in 1-on-1 drills and should be a good third-down rusher.
Kyed: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Marcus Forston, Cory Grissom (4)
The Patriots likely won’t go into the season with less than four interior linemen. Armond Armstead‘s status is uncertain, so the best guess for now is he starts the season on the non-football illness list. Unless the Patriots go out to acquire a veteran defensive lineman, “Pork Chop” Grissom best fits the team’s needs.
Hughes: Wilfork, Kelly, Forston (3)
Armstead may start the season on the NFI — in this case, I’ll guess yes — which would make for an even greater need of Forston.
Kyed: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais (6)
The Patriots always keep around a linebacker whose No. 1 job is special teams. That will be Beauharnais this year, though he’s also been adept at linebacker, even picking off a pass from Brady while playing the “Mike” role.
Hughes: Mayo, Spikes, Hightower, Collins, Fletcher (5)
Beauharnais would be a good depth linebacker and special teams player, but there just isn’t an immediate need for him. He could find his way onto the practice squad.
Kyed: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan, Marquice Cole (6)
Cole is great depth because he can play outside corner, the slot and safety. He’s also a great special teams player. Dowling’s health will always be a concern and Dennard’s status is uncertain. The Patriots need extra depth at corner.
Hughes: Talib, Dennard, Arrington, Ryan, Dowling, Cole (6)
The depth at cornerback is becoming an issue as Dowling can’t seem to stay healthy and Dennard’s future isn’t secure. So, keeping six cornerbacks becomes a necessity.
Kyed: Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon (4)
With Cole around, the team only needs four safeties. Gregory’s role is a bit redundant with the Wilsons around. Gregory has been playing mostly strong safety in camp and though he’s been in the mix for the starting role, the Patriots will give Tavon Wilson every opportunity to take the backup role behind Adrian Wilson.
Hughes: McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Adrian Wilson, Harmon, Steve Gregory (5)
Gregory has been mixing in with the first team during camp so far, and Tavon Wilson’s inability to emerge might make keeping the veteran around.
Kyed: Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken (3)
Gostkowski and Aiken don’t have any competition in camp, and though Ryan Allen has been impressive, the job is Mesko’s to lose.
Hughes: Gostkowski, Mesko, Aiken (3)
Allen is giving Mesko a run for his money in this punter competition, but Mesko’s superior hangtime and precision should beat out Allen’s booming leg.
LAST THREE IN
Kyed: Julian Edelman, Cory Grissom, Marquice Cole
Hughes: Tim Tebow, Steve Gregory, Jermaine Cunningham
LAST THREE OUT
Kyed: Tim Tebow, Jake Bequette, Steve Gregory
Hughes: Kamar Aiken, Steve Beauharnais, Brandon Bolden
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