In preparing for this 53 man roster, the Pats Pulpit staff acted as position coaches for each positional group. The position coach was allowed to unanimously decide who his "keepers" were, who his "bubble" players were, and which guys hadn't shown enough to bother with. Keep in mind this was done before the third pre-season game, so in hindsight there may be a few do overs.
The minimum keepers were decided by looking back at the minimum number of players at that position on historical rosters. For instance, the Patriots have never carried less than 2 quarterbacks or 5 receivers going into a season.
For some positions, like the front seven, it made more sense to have one guy decide whether it was more of a 4-3 look or a 3-4 look. The decisions on the line affect the linebackers. For the secondary, the potential dual role of Devin McCourty affected the entire mix, so having one guy overseeing the lot made sense. Personally, I just wanted the wide receivers, but ended up with the backs out of need and the QB's because with Tebow in the mix, nobody wanted to deal with it. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, so I grabbed that unit as well.
The Position Coaches
- Quarterbacks - SMP - Minimum: 2
- Offensive Line - Rich Hill - Minimum: 9
- Running Backs - SMP - Minimum: 4
- Tight Ends - Marima - Minimum: 3
- Wide Receivers - SMP - Minimum: 5
- Defensive Line - Greg Knopping - Minimum: 7 (this is when we used mainly 4-3 fronts)
- Linebackers - Greg Knopping - Minimum: 7 (this is when we used mainly 3-4 fronts)
- Safeties - Randy Booth - Minimum: 3
- Cornerbacks - Randy Booth - Minimum: 4
- Special Teams - Concensus - Kicker, Long Snapper, Punter
Picking the Positions
Quarterbacks: The obvious keeper is Tom Brady. The season goes as number 12 throws. Past him, I was tempted to toss both players in as bubble players on my wishlist, but decided that was the coward's way out. The decider for me was that in under 2 quarters of play, Mallett's offense had put points on the board, and in over 4 quarters of play Tebow's offense had not. So Ryan Mallett became my second keeper and Tim Tebow went to my wishlist.
Offensive Line: Rich picked Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Will Svitek, and Sebastion Vollmer as his keepers. With that move, the starters and top backups were all accounted for. It looked like R. J. Mattes would be safely tucked onto the IR for next year, and Luke Patterson and Brice Schwab were bubble players on the wishlist.
Running Backs: For top keepers I picked Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen who I figured to be the key contributors at the position. I added Leon Washington as returner (although I'm no longer sure he has shown enough to stick). Brandon Bolden made it primarily for his special teams contributions; he is on the top 4 special teams. In addition, I added James Develin and LeGarrette Blount (who looks to be getting some reps now at returner) to my wishlist.
Tight Ends: Marima felt that Rob Gronkowski was going to be back before the requisite 6 weeks that PUP would provide. In fact, she thought he'd be practicing before week 1 and she was right. Gronk is absolutely a roster lock if he is active. In addition, summer sensation Zach Sudfeld and do everything tight-end Michael Moomanawanui round out her roster locks. Steady blocker Jake Ballard and odd man out Daniel Fells rounded out her bubble wishlist.
Wide Receivers: If healthy, Danny Amendola looks to be Brady's go-to guy. He's a Welker clone with upside. I believe Aaron Dobson also makes the squad due to the high round pick and upside. He's still a work in progress, but he has shown enough to stick. The next three I felt were locks primarily for their special teams contributions. Special teams captain Matthew Slater is a mainstay on nearly every team. In addition, Julian Edelman is an elite level punt returner when healthy. Finally, the team seems excited about Josh Boyce's speed on coverage units which seemed like a bigger deal before I found out they can't cover. I added Kamar Aiken and Kenbrell Thompkins to my bubble wishlist, although after game three I'd probably have switched Boyce and Thompkins. Thompkins is a fighter.
Defensive Line: In looking at Greg's picks, he has covered both 3 and 4 man fronts, but it's obvious based on depth he was thinking we'd see mostly 4 man fronts. Two takeaways after game 3: Joe Vellano looked better than advertised and most of our tackles behind him can't get the job done. Unfortunately, Hoodie waited until after our cut downs to showcase Vellano who looked like a roster casualty.
Greg picked the dynamic duo of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly to anchor the line, and the two seem poised to wreak some real damage to opposing lines. In addition, Marcus Forston was the first backup tackle as he had been in the previous two preseason games. Greg picked the one-two punch of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich at defensive end. Backing them up he added Justin Francis and Marcus Benard. Bubble players were Cory Grissom at tackle and Jermaine Cunningham and Michael Buchanan at end.
Linebackers: Greg could have locked down up to seven players, but chose only 5 as sure fire keepers. The returning trio from last year of Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont'a Hightower are the starters in the 4-3 and it looks like the athletic rookie Jamie Collins can be used all over the field. As backup, rookie Steve Beauharnais should get some looks as he earns his spot on special teams. Only special teamer Dane Fletcher was sent to the bubble wishlist.
Safeties: When looking at safety, Randy picked the All-Pro level athlete in Devin McCourty. He picked Adrian Wilson as the matching strong safety, although Wilson played quite a bit at more of a free safety position (not his strong suit) with the second team in the third preseason game. The top backup for both positions is the steady but non-dynamic Steve Gregory. Nate Ebner and Duron Harmon were sent to the bubble wishlist. Second year man, Tavon Wilson, has been losing time to upstart Harmon who, quite frankly, is outplaying him this preseason.
Cornerbacks: Randy chose the starting tandem of Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard (hopefully we'll know soon if he will be here this season) to cover the outside with Kyle Arrington holding down the slot. Special teamer Marquice Cole is the primary backup. Rookie Logan Ryan and the perpetually injured but talented Ras-I Dowling were sent to the roster bubble wishlist.
Special Teams: With only one kicker in camp. Stephen Gostkowski wins the job unanimously. Good job Ghost! Meanwhile we just sent punters Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Allen, and long snappers Danny Aiken and Mike Zupancic to the roster vote as separate selections. After all, we're going to need one of each.
Bursting the Bubbles
With 41 roster spots locked, 2 needed for punter and long snapper, we had 10 spots to fill plus 8 spots on the practice squad. Now while it would be nice to fill out all eight spots on the practice squad, chances are half of the guys on the squad aren't even on the roster now. Bill Belichick will pull guys in as they are cut elsewhere to continue to churn the bottom of the roster as we head into the regular season.
Everyone was given 10 "A list" choices for the roster and 5 "B list" choices (worth half a vote to help with ties). In addition, the special teams eligible players were available for a second vote in case they didn't make the roster. Everyone had 8 "A list" and 4 "B list" votes for the practice squad that were only looked at after the player didn't make the roster.
Special teams: It was unanimous that punter Zoltan Mesko and long snapper Danny Aiken would keep their jobs. Allen has been good, but Mesko has been a little bit better.
To good to go: Everyone used an "A list" vote on WR Kenbrell Thompkins, LB Dane Fletcher, S Duron Harmon, and CB Logan Ryan. Only slightly lower were RB LeGarrette Blount and TE Jake Ballard who has seen a lot of snaps this preseason.
Best of the rest: As we're short on healthy offensive guards, it's no wonder that OG Luke Patterson made the team. DE Michael Buchanon, special teamer S Nate Ebner, and CB Ras-I Dowling round out the roster.
Practice makes perfect: DT Cory Grissom was a unanimous choice for the practice squad, and we almost universally agreed that FB James Develin, WR Kamar Aiken, and OT Brice Schwab should join him. P Ryan Allen was also stowed away looking at Mesko's contract next year.
I know I would pick some things differently given the benefit of hindsight, but overall I'm happy with my positional groupings. I'm sure a few others would like do overs as well. We're not at every practice and we can only see what they show us when they are on the field.
We are thin in certain key areas like offensive guard and defensive tackle. We may have the bodies, but the drop-off from starter to backup is severe. In addition, there are some areas like wide receiver and running back where we seem to have an embarrassment of riches and tough cuts may be made. That is a nice problem to have.
Every time I've made a 53 man roster, I've always pretended to be the man in charge, ala Hoodie, and shape the roster the way I felt it needed to be shaped. The realization with the approach we took here is that while Belichick has the final say, every position coach, the special teams coach, and even the offensive and defensive coordinators are pulling for "their guys" behind the scenes. For instance as a fan, I might want to see Jamie Collins make the team, but as the receiver position coach, I'm much more interested in seeing Kenbrell Thompkins on my roster. My professional future is more tied to him than to some defensive guy.
While this approach is far from perfect, it did emphasize that to build a team of players, you need a team of coaches behind the scenes to evaluate the players and work to strengthen each roster position. One man can't do it alone, even if he is Bill Belichick.
Quarterbacks(2): Brady, Mallett
Tight Ends(4): Gronkowski, Sudfeld, Hoomanawanui, Ballard
Running Backs(5): Ridley, Vereen, Washington, Bolden, Blount
Offensive Line(8): Cannon, Connolly, Mankins, Patterson,. Solder, Svitek, Vollmer, Wendell
Wide Receivers(6): Amendola, Dobson, Boyce, Edelman, Slater, Thompkins
Defensive Ends(5): Benard, Buchanon, Francis, Jones, Nonkovich
Defensive Tackles(3): Wilfork, Kelly, Forston
Linebackers(6): Beauharnais, Collins, Fletcher, Hightower, Mayo, Spikes
Safeties(5): Ebner, Gregory, Harmon, McCourty, A. Wilson
Cornerbacks(6):Arrington, Cole, Dennard, Dowling, Ryan, Talib
Long Snapper: Danny Aiken
Practice Squad(5): Grissom, Develin, K. Aiken, Schwab, Allen