Patriots Bubble Watch: Grading the Rookies

Oops. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday morning, I mentioned five rookies currently on the roster bubble that I would be paying particularly close attention to during the second preseason game. And while the game itself was a bit of a snoozer with a lot of penalties to break up what limited action there was, we did see a lot of bubble players try and make their case for why they should still be around this time next week.

Overall, I think that last night's game saw significant strides forward for some and a few steps backwards for others. I really wish that some of these rookies had seen some time with the true first unit, as it would have been much easier to gauge their performance if they were standing next to the Patriots starters, but at the same time these rookies went up against a very good first string of Eagles players, so it's not like last night was a wash. When you have rookies and bubble players sending Andy Reid to the bench to ream out his starting defense, you can't be too upset with that.

See how I think each rookie fared last night after the jump.

Nate Ebner. The obvious highlight of Ebner's night was the big interception to end the first half. However, I was particularly impressed with his on-field awareness and coverage. He was definitely out of position a few times and gave up a lot of space over the middle, but for a late round pick who has seen very limited football in his career, Ebner had a very solid performance. He tackles well, has a nose for the ball, and goes all out on every play. He likely isn't going to see the field in the regular season other than on special teams, but if (God forbid) the Patriots suffer another string of injuries to the secondary like they had last year, then Ebner is the kind of guy you want on the team working hard to improve his game. I'll take Nate Ebner over Matt Slater at safety any day, if for no other reason than he's guaranteed to blow somebody up after he makes a catch.
BUBBLE STATUS: Rising. Special teams contributions and a good outing at safety saw Ebner make tangible strides forward last night.

Eric Kettani. Kettani didn't have many catches or carries last night, but he had a great day throwing blocks as a pure fullback. That block he threw on the two point conversion is one of the better blocks I've seen, and the fact that he saw the bulk of his reps with the "first team" before sitting down for much of the game suggests that Kettani is a step above some of the other bubble players who saw more significant time last night. I feel like if I went back and watched the replay of the game, I'd notice a few more plays that Kettani made that had an impact; I'm not going to do that, though, mainly because I had trouble getting into last night's game even when it was live. However, I feel comfortable giving Kettani a positive endorsement based on the limited time he saw.
BUBBLE STATUS: Rising, but it still might not be enough to keep him around if the Patriots decide not to keep a fullback. The practice squad still may be the best fit here.

Alfonzo Dennard. Once again, Dennard didn't see the field, yielding the cornerback position to Marquice Cole as Will Allen spent some time at safety. At this point, you have to wonder whether Dennard will be able to catch up to the rest of the team and how much of a factor he'll be this year. The problem is that his ability can't be argued, and so the odds of him clearing waivers so the Patriots can place him on the practice squad are slim. I'm starting to think that New England's best bet right now is to keep him around for this next round of cuts, and then place him on either the PUP list or IR once the team is down to 75 men. If Dennard doesn't see any time this week, I'd put him in the red shirt category for this season.
BUBBLE STATUS: Falling, likely headed to IR/PUP after the next round of cuts.

Brandon Bolden. The muffed punt didn't help his case, and neither did his choice to try to make up for it on the ensuing punt by not calling for a fair catch and getting blown up as a result, but other than that I thought he had a decent night. The size difference between Bolden and Vereen is highly noticeable, and that alone may be enough to keep him around. Ball security was an issue coming in, and it's still an issue now. However, he runs hard, falls forward after contact, and has a pretty decent stiffarm. He also had that great tackle on the punt team, which helped illustrate his versatility. Nothing he did blew me away, but it's tough to run well when the defensive line is right up in your grill the second you get the ball.
BUBBLE STATUS: Neutral. Still seems primed to be the fourth running back, but didn't do anything to cement his role on the team.

Jeremy Ebert. Ebert lined up all over the field last night, and was in the lineup for most of the game, but I can only really remember four plays where he made an impact either way. One was a gimme drop. Another was a screen that got blown up in the backfield. The third was a shallow crossing route for a nice gain. The fourth was a kick return that didn't really do anything. Overall, a very so-so day for Ebert, which doesn't bode well for the rookie. I don't think Ebert looked awful by any means; he seems to have good instincts and he clearly knows the playbook. However, there are just too many receivers on this team as it is, and Ebert could use a year on the practice squad to further hone his skills.
BUBBLE STATUS: Falling. Ebert seems practice squad bound; I don't see another team claiming him off of waivers.

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