FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots receiving extensive playing time in the team’s preseason finale Thursday night can’t be feeling great about their certainty of making the 53-man roster.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said before the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub that the Patriots essentially were playing with a split squad in their 12-9 loss to the New York Giants. The Patriots’ starters focused on the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, while the backups played against the Giants.
Some notable players who took the field for the Patriots were cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Robert McClain, defensive lineman Alan Branch, safeties Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson, wide receiver Aaron Dobson, running back James White, linebacker James Morris and offensive lineman Josh Kline. That suggests they aren’t on the first-team of Belichick’s self-described split squad.
Wideout Reggie Wayne’s playing time can be explained away by his lack of experience in the Patriots’ offense, while offensive lineman Ryan Wendell likely was playing because he recently came off the physically unable to perform list.
The Patriots’ rookies, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, safety Jordan Richards, defensive ends Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers, offensive linemen Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason and David Andrews, linebacker Xzavier Dickson and wide receivers Chris Harper and Zach D’Orazio also played.
Beyond the obvious starters, running backs Jonas Gray and Dion Lewis, cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Bradley Fletcher, safety Duron Harmon, linebacker Jonathan Freeny, defensive lineman Dominique Easley and pass rusher Jabaal Sheard received the night off. That’s a good sign for those players, some of whom didn’t enter training camp as roster locks.
Running back Travaris Cadet also suited up but didn’t play, but it’s unclear why. He didn’t play a single preseason game but practiced this week. Perhaps he wasn’t healthy enough to take the field in the fourth week of the preseason. The Patriots are unlikely to keep third-down backs Lewis, White, Cadet and Brandon Bolden, and Cadet could be the odd-man out due to lack of health.
It was notable to see Ryan play the entire game across from Daxton Swanson outside at cornerback while McClain manned the slot. The Patriots only have six cornerbacks, however, so three of them were forced into playing time.
The Patriots usually keep five cornerbacks, so Ryan and McClain could both make the roster. The Patriots could also scour the waiver wire if they’re not happy with Ryan or McClain as the fifth corner.
Dobson played the first half then gave way to younger receivers to end the game. He’s likely to make the roster as the Patriots’ fifth wide receiver behind Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Wayne.
Branch isn’t a guarantee to make the 53-man roster if the Patriots think Brown can make a major impact early. They could keep a player like Rufus Johnson or Zach Moore over him.
Johnson helped his chances of making the roster with his third strong game of the preseason. He could have gone four for four if not for an injury that kept him out against the New Orleans Saints.
The Patriots currently have 75 players on their roster. They must trim to 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, though they could make cuts early with a short week in front of them. The Patriots play Thursday night in the NFL’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images