Two down, two to go.
With cutdown day on the horizon, the New England Patriots will host the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium in their third of four preseason games.
For players whose roster spots are not secure, this game represents one of the final opportunities to prove they deserve to stick around beyond next weekend. Here are five players with the most to prove:
Braxton Berrios, wide receiver
The roster battle at receiver has intensified following the returns of Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Demaryius Thomas, and Berrios might now be fighting with Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris for just one spot — with Berrios looking like the low man on that list. The good news for the 2018 seventh-round draft pick is he could see a lot of playing time Thursday with many other wideouts (Edelman, Thomas, Dorsett, Harris, N’Keal Harry) either dealing with or having recently recovered from injuries. (Per terms of his reinstatement, Gordon can’t play until next week at the earliest.)
Lance Kendricks, tight end
Speaking of injuries, we don’t expect to see Matt LaCosse or Stephen Anderson in action against Carolina. That means more opportunities for Kendricks, who, outside of an ill-timed holding call that resulted in a Patriots safety, looked pretty good against the Tennessee Titans in his Patriots debut. The 31-year-old veteran can strengthen his case for a roster spot with another solid showing Thursday night.
Mike Pennel, defensive tackle
We expected big things this season from Pennel, projecting him as an obvious replacement for — and even an upgrade over — the departed Malcom Brown. That’s not been the case so far. Danny Shelton, who endured a string of healthy scratches last season, has been the Patriots’ top choice at nose guard in their new 3-4 base defense, with Pennel having to wait until the second half of last week’s game to play his first snap. Since New England likely won’t roll into the season with just one nose guard, Pennel still has a reasonably good chance of cracking the 53-man roster, but his play thus far hasn’t inspired much confidence.
Duke Dawson, cornerback
A staple on these lists throughout the spring and summer, Dawson still looks like the seventh-best player in an absolutely loaded cornerback room. After enjoying his best practice of camp last Thursday in Nashville, he backslid in preseason game No. 2, committing a penalty on third down that extended a Titans drive and allowing a 21-yard completion to journeyman receiver Kalif Raymond on second-and-20. No team wants to cut a second-round pick one year after drafting him, but Dawson simply has not looked deserving of a roster spot. He has two games left to change that.
Deatrich Wise, defensive end
Wise didn’t make the sophomore leap many were expecting from him last season, but his presence on this list has more to do with scheme than performance. The third-year pro is an awkward fit for the Patriots’ new 3-4, which has him playing as a five-technique defensive end. Run defense never has been Wise’s forte — he’s played nearly three times as many pass-rush snaps over his two pro seasons — and D-ends typically are expected to two-gap in 3-4 fronts. Wise made a few plays in the running game against Tennessee but also was pushed around at times, including on a Jeremy McNichols touchdown run that was called back because of a holding call in the secondary. We need to see more from him before we pencil him into the 53.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images