So, its roster cut down time in the NFL and a somewhat bittersweet 48 hours - we as fans feel an obvious excitement at discovering the base of player who we hope can lead our team to glory but there are countless players waiting by the phone today as they face losing their job. That said, the trimming of each roster has to be done, so here's my prediction for the Patriot's final 53...
The Patriots carry the best QB depth in the league. These same three won't round out the Patriot's opening day roster for the 2012 season - Brian Hoyer's stock is rapidly rising and QB needy teams will be interested, even as early as the next few weeks if a starting QB goes down to injury.
Like 2010, the Patriots carry only four backs - Ridley can likely assume Sammy Morris' role as FB together with easing the load for BJGE and it's a sad goodbye to Kevin Faulk, whose usefulness is limited with Danny Woodhead and the recently drafted Shane Vereen, both 3rd down specialists.
Gronkowski looks set to emerge as one of the next star tight ends in the NFL and Hernandez will continue to develop his consistency (I continue to remind myself how young he actually is). The undrafted Will Yeatman has really made an impression on the coaches and players for his blocking and tenacity together with his catching ability and beats out Lee Smith as a better rounded player.
Taylor Price has really done his stock a world of good during the pre season, so much so that he should garner some serious looks during the regular season. Matthew Slater beats out Brandon Tate for the final receiver position given his ST prowess and solid backup receiver ability. It's a shame for Tate but the Patriots can't wait around forever for him to become the receiver they expected him to be, particularly with Taylor Price surpassing him on the depth chart.
The starting line which finished 2010 returns again this year. Nate Solder is the left tackle of the future and a good swing backup for 2011. Rich Ohrnberger and Ryan Wendell round out the depth, leaving Steve Manieri on the practice squad for another year.
If the Patriots do indeed shift to a 4 man defensive line, the need for 7 or 8 defensive tackles is greatly diminished, even if they want to throw in a number of 3-4 looks each week. The Patriots field terrific depth on the defensive line, which allows them to keep players like Haynesworth and Ellis fresh for pass rushing situations. Kyle Love continues to get better and is the primary backup for Wilfork at nose tackle. It wouldn't surprise me if the Patriots finally lost patience with Ron Brace and cut him, given his second year of showing up to camp seemingly out of shape, but the team places Brace and Brandon Deaderick on the PUP list to start the season. Mike Wright is the tough cut here and while the Patriots would like to keep him around, his recent injury history makes him expendable, particularly with the development of Pryor and Love.
Look for Cunningham to make significant improvement in 2011, when we will also find out more about Moore! Andre Carter and Mark Anderson have already shown their pass rushing skills in the preseason. Although Carter does have some experience as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, the Patriots will likely use Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich when they switch to this package, allowing Carter to focus on rushing the passer.
If the Patriots do indeed play more true 4-3 or even a hybrid style defense, they need the depth to do so and will probably keep five on the roster, maybe sacrificing a safety or defensive lineman. Spikes began camp on fire and looked set build on his solid rookie year but has since been ailing with injury. Dane Fletcher has had one of the best camps of all defenders and will push for serious time on the field. Tracy White has shown his worth on ST and also as a backup in the linebacking rotation.
A position of weakness as recent as 2008, corner depth has been totally transformed into one of great strength. Last years' number two corner (Arrington) will be fourth on the depth chart and even as the fifth CB, Butler is definitely serviceable. Jonathan Wilhite is the main casualty from the group as Pat Chung can moonlight as a sixth CB.
Last year, the Patriots carried five safeties, and given the quality depth at cornerback, the Patriots should revert to a solid but sensible rotation of four here. But something seems amiss in training camp and the coaches don't seem happy with what they are seeing. Look for Chung to really establish himself this year now he can concentrate on his natural position. Given recent developments, the Patriots may go in another direction from Meriweather in favour of keeping someone like Josh Barrett around instead, or even perhaps exploring trade options.
The Patriots welcome back one of the best kickers in the league in Gostkowski. Mesko had a solid rookie campaign but the Patriots will expect more consistency from him this year. Katula will hopefully continue the reliable play which saw him replace Jake Ingram as long snapper mid way through 2010.
Kevin Faulk, Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick
PRACTICE SQUAD (8)
The Patriots store backup at running back, wide receiver and keep Manieri in the ranks for another year. They try to get Lee Smith onto the PS but he won't clear waivers. Lavarias and Tarpinian provide cover for the linebacking positions in the new 4-3 and Kade Weston for the defensive line. Josh Barrett will be watched closely by other teams but after a year on IR, teams may not have space for such an unknown so he may slip through.