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Patriots Camp Battles Update #3: Post 75 Cut Edition

Now that the roster has been cut to 75, the picture becomes clear on how the battles are shaping up.

The three busiest men in football this week.
The three busiest men in football this week.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots 75-man roster cuts were players I didn't expect to make the roster out of camp anyway, but the third preseason game does offer insight to how these battles may conclude. The RCB and nickel battles are pretty much decided at this point, which leaves only the Dime role up for grabs.

Battle #1: RCB
Tarell Brown will likely be starting across from Malcolm Butler in base defense, but could end up kicking inside in nickel defenses and play the slot receiver. Bradley Fletcher would then enter as the 3rd CB and fill in at RCB. The Patriots did that with Kyle Arrington in 2010-2012 before they traded for Aqib Talib and promoted Alfonzo Dennard to the starting RCB job.

Battle #2: Receiving Back
The Patriots will likely carry Brandon Bolden, James White, and Dion Lewis as their receiving backs. Bolden can do everything you ask for in a RB, but doesn't do any of those things exceptionally well. I'm curious to see 2 RB sets with two of these receiving backs to create confusion for the defense. I believe Lewis and Bolden are both enough of a run threat to make this work. I still think that James White by the end of the year could end up claiming the role for himself, it's a matter of improving pass protection to the levels that Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen were in New England. The receiving back is likely the 4th/5th option in most games, but in games where the LB coverage is a weakness or there's a team that has a great front 4 as an outlet receiver like Shane Vereen in Super Bowl XLIX.

Battle #3: LG and RG
I think the Patriots are going to crash course Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson at guard early in the season. Jackson isn't the guy you worry about, it's Mason. Mason has been up and down this preseason in both run and pass blocking and at times his limited stature will be a problem this year. Fortunately, the Patriots have super sub Ryan Wendell as a safety net in case Mason's career gets off to a rocky start.

Battle #4: 2nd Power RB
Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden will share the power RB duties against the Steelers in Week 1. Nothing has changed here since the first preseason game and it won't.

Battle #5: Back-Up LB
Based on playing time in the preseason, it's going to be James Morris and Jonathan Freeny. Freeny offers special teams value and Morris can play all 3 LB positions and ILB in 4 LB personnel grouping. Morris has had two quality preseasons in a row and should make the team as the top backup. Mayo, Hightower, and Collins are healthy but all 3 players missed time in 2014. For some reason, I see the Patriots bringing back Chris White after cuts to boost them on Special Teams.

Battle #6: Dime Back
This battle is still undecided between Tavon Wilson, Jordan Richards, and Nate Ebner. It's really a battle between the first two since Wilson and Ebner both play a lot on Special Teams. Wilson has plenty of experience in this role and has done well in it before, so I wouldn't be surprised if he wins the job again. I'm not sure how much the Patriots will be playing Dime (maybe somewhere between 5 and 10% of the snaps), but it will vary from team to team on their schedule and the function of the score.

Battle #7: Nickel Back
I didn't think it was possible for Robert McClain to lose this spot, but he has. With Bradley Fletcher (6-10 36 yds 2 PD) recovering with back-to-back strong performances and McClain struggling giving up catches and penalties (7-9 81 yds 1 PD 2 PEN), Fletcher has taken on the 3rd CB role in my eyes. Brown will move to the slot and Fletcher will assume RCB duties when the Patriots go nickel. McClain will still make the roster because the position has gained importance after the emergence of Wes Welker in 2007 and the slot receiver position as a whole now being a big thing. You need a solid backup for the job, which is what McClain is for.

Battle #8: 4th WR
Brandon LaFell hasn't been placed on the reserve Physically Unable to Perform list, which means he could return before Week 6. However, we don't know if the Patriots are keeping him out because of the foot or because they want to give reps to other players since LaFell doesn't really need preseason games. I'm going to guess the former since the Patriots signed Reggie Wayne last week. In terms of this camp battle in particular, Aaron Dobson has won this camp battle due to his competition ending up on the Injured Reserve list although Dobson would have likely won anyway with the camp he had. I think Dobson will end up as a matchup player whose snaps will be determined by the game plan instead of being an every down guy like LaFell or Julian Edelman.

Battle #9: SS
Patrick Chung is still the starter and it's probably going to be that way all season.

Battle #10: 9th DL
Alan Branch has a stranglehold on this roster spot and it's entirely possible the Patriots carry 10 DL with the amount of talent they have at both DE and DT. If they have a 10th DL roster spot, which isn't a part of this camp battle, then you have Zach Moore, Casey Walker, and Rufus Johnson competing for a spot. With Johnson having two quality preseasons in a row, some team desperate for an edge rusher may claim him, although the Patriots probably can afford to lose him with the additions they made at the edge defense in free agency and the draft. I don't see the Patriots carrying 10 DL this year though.

Battle Contestants Projected Winner Leader
RCB Logan Ryan, Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher, Darryl Roberts Logan Ryan Tarell Brown
R-RB Brandon Bolden, Dion Lewis, Travaris Cadet, James White James White Brandon Bolden
OGs Ryan Wendell, Tre Jackson, Shaq Mason, Josh Kline Ryan Wendell, Tre Jackson Shaq Mason, Tre Jackson
#2 P-RB Jonas Gray, Tyler Gaffney Jonas Gray Jonas Gray
Backup LBs James Morris, Jonathan Freeny, Darius Fleming, Dane Fletcher, Eric Martin Darius Fleming, James Morris James Morris, Jonathan Freeny
Dime DB Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards Patrick Chung Tavon Wilson
Nickel DB Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher, Tarell Brown, Darryl Roberts Robert McClain Bradley Fletcher
4th WR Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Brandon Gibson, Chris Harper Aaron Dobson Aaron Dobson
SS Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards Patrick Chung/Duron Harmon Patrick Chung
9th DL Alan Branch, Antonio Johnson, Zach Moore, Rufus Johnson, Casey Walker Alan Branch Alan Branch