After starting the 2011 Pre-Season with two very decisive and easy victories against Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, the Patriots look well on their way to being the frontrunners to win the AFC East and favorite (sorry Rex) to win the Superbowl in one of their rival's home stadium. The Patriots are currently at the 90-man training camp roster limit set by the NFL. First set of cuts will be on August 30th, where the roster trims down from 90 players to 80 players. The next round of cuts trims the roster from 80 players to 53 players on September 3rd. Who remains on the roster after then and who gets added is something that will be revealed when that day arrives. The evaluation for players on the bubble will continue in the two remaining preseason games and three weeks of practice.
On another note- Bill Belichick has elected to switch to a more attack-based 4-3 instead of the 2-gap read and react 3-4 where the lineman tries to hold up the O-lineman. Two reasons that can be attributed are the lockout with a short Free Agency Period and no time to get defenders up to speed and the fact that more teams are switching to a 3-4 because it is more effective when executed effectively, causing the price of 3-4 DL and OLB to go up and BB didn't want to overpay those players.Players who are essentially a lock to make the 53-man roster include:
QB- Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett- Brady is the starter and one of the greatest QB's of All-Time. Hoyer is the clear backup at this point, but will be pushed by Ryan Mallett- who experienced a fall in the draft similar to Brady. Mallett is on the roster for two reasons- he is one of the best pocket QB's coming out of college and can throw like the best of them. Unlike Brady in 2000, there will not need to be a 4th QB spot to keep him. Mallett will develop through the system very quickly like Tom did in 2001 and start to push Brady in 2-3 years.
RB- BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen- In the Law Firm's case, the leading rusher of the AFC East who is in his 4th season (Prime age for RB's) and prove that last year wasn't a fluke. However, the two rookies, especially Stevan Ridley, will push him for touches. Danny Woodhead broke out last year with a 5.6 ypc average on 97 carries and caught 56 passes out of the backfield. This midget is gritty and very fluid as a runner and can be the 3rd down guy due to his versatility. Stevan Ridley in two preseason games and 1 start, has proven why he was worthy enough to be drafted 1 spot ahead of the best pure passer in college, with 30 carries for 148 carries (4.9 ypc) and has hauled in 12 passes (mostly from Mallett). BB is showing confidence in him if he has been the main back in pre-season and could vault his way into the #2 RB if his momentum continues. Vereen has participated in only 1 practice and pulled his hamstring which has sidelined him for three weeks. That injury is more painful for RB's and the depth at the position doesn't force him to rush back and do something worse to it. Morris has a small chance to make the roster- but will not be included unless he actually makes it.
WR- Wes Welker, Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Taylor Price- The two smurfs (Welker and Branch) have been security blankets for Tom Brady in his career. Branch and Welker were the leading receivers last season (excluding TE's and RB's) with Welker snaring in 86 and Branch 48 since returning to the Patriots in Week 5. Chad Ochocinco is not the same receiver he was when Carson Palmer was considered good in 2004-2006, but with an upgrade at QB should have a bounceback season once Brady feels comfortable throwing the ball to him. Taylor Price was a 3rd rd pick (90th) in the 2010 draft, and even with the setbacks in college and the steep learning curve has started to pick up some steam this season before taking a massive hit last week against Jacksonville. If he can play to his potential, then the 2010 draft will be labeled as one of the best in Patriots' history.
TE- Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez- Getting both these players was an absolute heist. These two guys combined for 97 catches for 1109 yds and 16 TD's. Aaron Hernandez's perfect combination of speed, hands, route running, running after the catch, and athleticism cause match up problems against opposing defenses. Gronkowski, though not as fast as Hernandez, is also a match up nightmare, but for the same reason. Gronkowski and the ungodly combination of strength, surprising speed, hands, and size makes him a beast and at times- impossible to defend. With Brady throwing the ball, the only thing stopping those two from being 1st Team All-Pros are the fact they play on the same team.
OL- Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell- Matt Light has been the blindside protector of Brady since he became the starting QB in 2001. Light is on the decline, which is why they drafted Solder in the 1st rd this year, but he is still an above average LT with only the speed guys like Freeney being able to get past him. Logan Mankins is arguably the best LG in the NFL and his new contract reflects that. With no distractions keeping him off the field, he can bring his aggressive style blocking onto it and dominate at the LOS. Koppen is solid at Center, he is always on the same page as Brady and great at making protection calls. Only setback is age- which makes it tougher to block behemoth NT's. Dan Connolly is probably the weak link on the line- but has been servicable in his first 3 seasons as the prime backup at center and guard. This year, he is the starter at RG and teams will attack him. Sebastian Vollmer is the league's best swing tackle, as he has shown he can excel at both LT and RT. This year, he is at RT. Nate Solder is the team's 1st round pick in the draft and is already close to where Matt Light is now. The only issue is that he can be beaten inside (absolutely can't be allowed at all costs) if he guesses outside and struggles against DE with multiple pass rushing moves. Ryan Wendell is injured right now and unless it's serious- should make the squad in the same role Connolly had in 2008-09. With injuries to Koppen and Connolly in the 3rd preseason game against the Lions, the once very good depth at O-Line that last few seasons is starting to dwindle. Look for BB to get someone outside of New England right now like he did with Page. Steve Maneri's chances to make the roster increase- but still isnt a lock.
DL- Andre Carter, Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth, Jermaine Cunningham, Shaun Ellis, Kyle Love, Mark Anderson- Andre Carter showed a lot in the preseason game against Tampa Bay- at one point forcing the LT to moon him with his pants up. He was very disruptive and made life difficult for Josh Freeman in the first half. Barring any setbacks, Wilfork and Haynesworth will both start at DT. With those two mountains in the middle, it creates problems for interior OL and frees up the DE's more. Jermaine Cunningham is certainly an interesting case to study, as Andre Carter could push him to the bench. Cunningham showed flashes of brilliance (strip sack of Flacco and the hit to force Sanders' GW INT against Manning), but was slowed down by a calf injury all season. Cunningham can man both DE positions- which helps in the DE rotation. Shaun Ellis just got off the PUP list today. He has experience at 4-3 DT, 4-3 DE, and 3-4 DE- which aids his case. His versatility can shift him inside in the nickel and allow BB to sub in Anderson without sacrificing one pass rushing D-Lineman. Also, BB wouldn't dish out $4-5 M in guaranteed money if wasn't going to make the roster. G. Warren was an interesting sign-as he was more of a luxury than need. In the Tampa Bay game, he showed that he can still bring it, combining with Myron Pryor to stuff LeGarrett Blount for a 3-yd loss and abusing former Patriots' 6th rd pick Ted Larson. Although Kyle Love and Myron Pryor are similar in stature (6'1" 310 lbs), those two players complement each other. They have played excellent so far and could possibly push Mike Wright out of a job. Mark Anderson was picked up to do pretty much one thing- make the QB eat grass, mud, and snow. If he can improve on run defense, he can be a steal and the answer to their pass rusher problems. G. Warren and Pryor are no longer locks in my opinion of making the roster because Haynesworth has been practicing consistently now. Eric Moore has been cut, which makes Anderson on the roster as the sub-rushing DE.
LB- Rob Ninkovich, Gary Guyton, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher- Ninkovich had some good moments, especially against Miami last season (2 INT, 3 Sacks) against the awful Chad Henne. In the playoff game last year- he was injured in the 1st quarter and never came back into the game, which was a huge blow to the defense. He will play the same LB position, just not at the LOS all the time. Gary Guyton makes the team only because of the injuries to Spikes (ankle) and Fletcher (thumb) and the uncertainty that brings. Jerod Mayo was a beast against Tampa Bay and was almost literally glued to Josh Freeman. As the Will LB- it frees him to do things that he does best and that's make plays all over the field. Brandon Spikes, when healthy, is also a playmaker at LB. He isn't fast, but has an excellent eye for the football and being "Johnny on the spot." Dane Fletcher was making tremendous strides at MLB during training camp until he sustained a thumb injury on the 2nd play of the game against Tampa Bay and did not return (precautionary reason probably).
CB- Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling- Devin McCourty is the best CB on the team and best defensive rookie not named Ndamukong Suh last season. He is a great cover corner who can stick to his receiver and play the ball. He can also play the run and occasionally blitz- which could make him the 2nd coming of Ty Law. Leigh Bodden is a tall CB who can cover well both outside and in the slot- playing bump and run coverage while jamming the receiver at the LOS. He is very physical and has a nose for the football. Kyle Arrington has similar attributes to Bodden outside of height and rarely lets the receiver run by him after the catch. Ras-I Dowling is in the same boat as Shane Vereen. When healthy- is just as good as Leigh Bodden was in 2009. He can jam receivers at the LOS and use his speed to close in on zone coverage.
S- Pat Chung, Sergio Brown, James Ihedigbo- As Brandon Meriweather is good at catching INT's he is as bad as reading a play. He occasionally gets beaten deep for TD's, takes bad angles to the football, and unsuccessfully tries to deliver the wood. If he can overcome those weakness- he would be a monster safety. Pat Chung is probably the anti-Meriweather. Chung can play in the box and occasionally in man or zone coverages. He is a great tackler at safety, diagnosis plays, and delivers bone-crushing hits the right way (shoulder to back). Sergio Brown is an interesting candidate at Safety. Clearly he needs to be able to do well in special teams, but with the increased reps he's getting at safety this year, is a vote of confidence from BB that he can make a year-2 jump. James Sanders is the epitome of "Johnny on the Spot." When he gets a chance to make a play, it is generally huge as it either changes the momentum of the game (2007 vs. Baltimore), ices the game (2010 vs. Pittsburgh), or wins the game outright (2010 vs. Indy). With Sanders cut- the possibility of Ihedigbo to make the roster increase.
ST- James Dearth, Zoltan Mesko, Stephen Gostkowski- With no other long snappers on the roster, Katula automatically makes the roster. Mesko (aka the Emperor of Space) is the only punter on the team- with puts him on there as well. If Stephen Gostkowski can kick 45-yd Field Goals in a game and 53-yds in warmups, he will stay on the roster. James Dearth has been signed to replace Matt Katula at long snapper for the season. BB has gone through 4 different long snappers since making a great find, if not best in the business, in Lonnie Paxton in 2000.
Note as there are only 43 players who were listed. There are 8 open spots left on the roster among 45 players left on the training camp roster. For every player who makes the club, 5 players will not. Some interesting roster battles to watch include...
#10 DL- Will BB go 5 DT and 5 DE or 6 & 4? Eric Moore's place on the roster depends on it. So this battle is essentially Eric Moore vs. Mike Wright. With Wright not being able to practice since Aug. 4th and sustained a serious concussion last season, edge Eric Moore. Wright's chances of making the roster increase with instability at DT after Wilfork and Haynesworth. This may turn into a battle where both players end up on the roster. Winner: Mike Wright
#3 TE- Will Yeatman vs. Lee Smith- Yeatman has really impressed in camp, and his college background of being a lacrosse player in Maryland certainly doesn't hurt either. Both players are blocking TE's by trade. Lee Smith was a 5th rd. pick vs Yeatman being an UDFA who idolizes New England. I give the edge to Yeatman- he has shown more as a pass catcher than Smith, but Yeatman may be cut and placed on the Practice Squad because BB doesn't want to lose Smith. With Mills cut, it is a certainty that at least 1 makes the roster. No winners here
#9 OL- Rich Ohrnberger vs. Mike Berry, John Compas & Thomas Austin- Everyone knows who will win this one- no explanation necessary. The only reason Ohrnberger is in this section is he hasn't done anything to really lock up a spot the only other guy with a chance is Mike Berry. Ohrnberger looked like a deer in the headlights vs. Ndamukong Suh. Winner: Ohrnberger- but then went to IR, so winner Andre Gurode and Brian Waters
#5 WR- Brandon Tate vs. Julian Edelman vs. Matthew Slater- Although these two (Tate & Edelman) players are different, they are both really trying to get a roster spot. This battle isn't going to be decided by how these two play as much as it how the other WR play. Brandon Tate hasn't looked good on deep passes and Edelman struggled with the dropsies last season. If Edelman can play the big 4 on Special Teams like Slater can, than both Tate and Edelman could make it. Matthew Slater is a stud special teams player who never really needed to play WR. If BB is happy enough with the other 4 WR on the depth chart and wants to keep his Special Teams intact- Slater is the guy. If there is a 6th spot at WR- Slater has the edge. In the battle for #5- Tate has the edge because he has more potential than Edelman. This will be the toughest cut in final cutdowns. I think that Slater won a spot on the team this pre-season and could force BB to trade Tate or Edelman since he would lose them to waivers most likely. Winner: Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman
#6 LB- Tracy White vs. Niko Koutouvides vs. Ricky Brown- Last season, BB traded a 6th rd. pick to Philadephia to get Tracy White to reinforce special teams. Last season- he lived up to that billing, leading the team in Special Teams tackles. Koutouvides and Ricky Brown do the exact same thing. All three players are relatively similar in stature. Edge to Tracy White because they resigned him and he did his job very well last season. Winner: Tracy White
#5 CB- Darius Butler vs. Jonathan Wilhite vs. Malcolm Williams- Butler has had flashes of brilliance (2009 vs. Tennessee and Houston and 2010 vs. Indy) and is only in his 3rd season. Butler though has been inconsistent at best and gave up a lot of big catches for 1st downs and TD's. Jonathan Wilhite has been awful since his INT vs. Indy in 2009. He did the unthinkable and that was make Darius Butler look good in comparison to him. Malcolm Williams hasn't seen much playing time on the field and the signing of James Ihedigbo really cut into his chances of making the team. Edge goes to Butler because he has the skills, but needs to improve his technique a bit more and that requires reps on the field. Wilhite and Williams are both cut- so Butler is the winner here, but hasnt secured a spot yet. Add Antwaun Molden to the mix. Winner: Darius Butler
#5 S- James Ihedibgo vs. Josh Barrett- Another no contest. The only problem is whether BB will keep 5 safeties for the sake of Special Teams. Ihedigbo is a great signing because it sures up both the safety position and Special teams. Barrett returned to practice last week and this roster battle is now another roster battle. Winner: Both
#2 RT- Steve Maneri vs. Zach Roth- Same situation as with Ohrnberger. Maneri should win this battle. It should be interesting if Roth is re-signed to the practice squad as his size is ideal (6'6" 319). With Roth released August 21st, the only other remaining T is UDFA Corey Woods, who is another longshot to make the roster. Winner: Steve Maneri
First Round of Cuts August 30th Predictions- WR Tyree Barnes (Aug. 30), DT Kade Weston (Aug. 30), DE Clay Nurse (Aug. 29), S Bret Lockett (Aug. 21), WR Darnell Jenkins (Aug. 29), S James Sanders (Aug. 29), G Mark Wetterer (Aug. 30), WR Jeremy Ross (Aug. 30), CB Jonathan Wilhite (Aug. 30), K Chris Koepplin (Aug. 30), TE Garrett Mills (Aug. 30), CB Malcolm Williams (Aug. 30), LS Matt Katula (Aug. 30), LB Marques Murrell (Aug. 30), T Zach Roth (Aug. 21), LB Tully Banta-Cain (July 27), CB Tony Carter (July 27), TE Alge Crumpler (July 27), OL Nick Kaczur (July 27), DL Marcus Stroud (July 27), DT Ty Warren (July 27), DE Ryan Coulson (July 27), LB Anthony Leonard (July 30), QB Jonathan Crompton (Aug. 2), RB Thomas Clayton (Aug. 3), DT Marlon Favorite (Aug. 5), CB Thad Turner (Aug. 7), Kyle Hix (IR), Christian Cox (IR), C Chris Morris (Aug. 13), DT Steve Williams (Aug. 13), T Mark LeVoir (Aug. 17)
Final Cutdowns- RB Sammy Morris (Sept. 3), WR/S Buddy Farnham (Sept. 2), T Corey Woods (Sept. 2), G Thomas Austin (Sept. 3), DE Markell Carter (Sept. 3), DE Aaron Lavarias (Sept. 3), DT Landon Cohen (Sept. 3), LB Niko Koutouvides (Sept. 3), LB Ricky Brown (Sept. 2), TE Lee Smith (Sept. 3), DT Ron Brace (Reserve/PUP), RB Kevin Faulk (Reserve/PUP), DE/DT Brandon Deaderick (Reserve/PUP), G Marcus Cannon (Reseve/NFI- Sept. 1), DE Alex Silvestro (Sept. 3), G Mike Berry (Sept. 2), WR Tiquan Underwood (Sept. 3), WR Brandon Tate (Sept. 3), S Ross Ventrone (Sept. 3), DT Darryl Richard (Sept. 2), C John Compas (Sept. 2), TE Carson Butler (Sept. 2), RB Richard Medlin (Sept. 2), DE Eric Moore (Sept. 3), RB Eric Kettani (Sept. 3), S Brandon Meriweather (Sept. 3), TE Will Yeatman (Sept. 3), C/G Rich Ohrnberger (IR)
Look for BB to trade young roster bubble players for late draft picks and for BB to parlay those picks into more players that can be hidden gems like Page. By the way, congratulations to Jeff Tarpinian for being the undrafted free agent that made the roster.
The final roster will be posted later with analysis of each player and what they bring to the team after Final Cuts.