Patriots Bubble Watch: The Rookies

You're gonna need more than just a pretty face to make this squad, kid. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE

Three Patriots games in 10 days? Yes please.

While it definitely isn't a favorable schedule from a team standpoint, the football fan in me is very excited for the next week and a half. I see it as more than just a chance to watch the Patriots play a whole bunch in a short period of time; I also see it as a great opportunity to get myself into game shape. Just as the coaching staff is going to have to very carefully monitor playing time, adequate rest, gameplanning, and effective playcalling, I'm going to have to carefully monitor wing intake, adequate hydration, remote control-related cramping, and couch-to-butt-groove ratios. The time for taking it easy has come and gone.

These next 10 days are also crucial for those bubble players we all know and love so well, starting with tonight's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. While things may change based on the tightness of the schedule, Week 2 is traditionally the time when the starters remain on the field for a little longer than the first game and some of the bubble players get a little bit of time with the first team. Week 2 also allows us to tangibly measure the team's progress; those of us unfortunate enough to be unable to see the Patriots practice live only have the preseason games to actually watch these players perform, and so a lot of us came into Week 1 not really knowing what to expect. However, now that the Saints game is in the books, there is a standard of sorts in place, and tonight's game will be an excellent opportunity to measure how many strides forward this team has taken.

While I'm going to be watching for a lot of things tonight, I'm going to be paying particular attention to five rookies currently on the roster bubble, as I'm hopeful they'll all see a fair amount of time. After the game is over, I'll be back with a report card of sorts for each of these players, and whether tonight's game helped or hurt their chances of making the final roster.

Breakdown after the jump.

Nate Ebner. Ebner is quickly becoming something of a folk hero around New England, a status that was only heightened with a very solid week of practice. However, there's a significant difference between practice and even a preseason game, and at the moment Ebner is by no means a roster lock. He has definitely been stating his case loud and clear as to why he belongs on this team, but the fact of the matter is that he still remains very raw as a football player and really hasn't spent much time on the football field. I'm hoping to see Ebner get some reps at safety tonight, as all of his action was on special teams during the first preseason game, and giving the rookie some time in the secondary could be seen as a nice vote of confidence from the coaching staff.

Jeremy Ebert. I currently have Ebert destined for the practice squad, and as of now nothing I've seen or heard has given me reason to change that opinion. While the release of Britt Davis has certainly helped his chances, Ebert is simply on the outside looking in right now. The good news is that Ebert is likely to get a decent amount of time in tonight's game, especially with Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch nursing injuries. Odds are that Ebert is only going to get a handful of passes thrown his way, and if he doesn't at least show promise, he may not even be called back to the team after he clears waivers.

Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard was one of those players I really wanted to pay close attention to during the first preseason game, but the injury he suffered on July 27th has kept him off the field ever since. The battle for the fifth cornerback spot is going to be a fierce one, and Dennard is already behind the curve with all the time he has missed. I'm not sure if he'll even be healthy enough to go, but if so then this game is going to be huge for him; Dennard joins Will Allen, Marquice Cole, Ross Ventrone, Malcolm Williams and Derrick Martin in the competition for what is likely only one or two spots. Again, I have no idea whether Dennard is expected to dress or not, but if he does, I hope to see him on the field long enough to start formulating an opinion.

Eric Kettani. With the signing of Jeff Demps, the Patriots now have seven backs on the roster, and it's starting to look like keeping a pure fullback just isn't in the cards. Kettani is a very hard worker and displayed some great blocking and pass catching skills during the first preseason game, but that might not be enough to keep him around full-time. With Spencer Larsen still sidelined and Stevan Ridley likely to see limited (if any) action tonight, Kettani really has to make the most of the time he's given and remind Belichick why he went to bat for him during his lengthy appeal with the Navy.

Brandon Bolden. Up until late last week, I was almost tempted to take Bolden out of the bubble category altogether; he has been running well, looked good against the Saints, and seemed to have entrenched himself as the team's fourth running back. However, now that the team has signed Jeff Demps, Bolden's job security isn't as guaranteed as it was a few days ago. While I still think that Bolden's size and strength make him a better cog in the Patriots already smaller backfield than Demps, the Florida product's value as a returner could give him the edge should the team decide to only keep four backs. Tonight will be a great chance for him to continue to prove his worth, as he is likely to see a good number of carries. Hopefully he can build on the momentum he gained during Week 1.

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