The New England Patriots were busy yet again on Wednesday and Thursday as the initial practice squad took shape. The developmental group consists mainly of players who spent the summer with the team, as 12 players who were released or waived at the NFL’s 53-man roster deadline are now back in Foxborough.
Despite the flurry of movement, New England still has one open spot remaining on their 16-man practice squad. The initial members are also not set in stone, as teams across the league continue to finetune.
Speaking with the media on Wednesday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explained “that the roster-building process is far from complete.”
“We’ll be starting to assemble a practice squad,” he added. “If past years are any indication, I’m sure that that process will also continue for a period of time until that’s resolved. There’s a lot of movement still to go.”
For now, however, here are quick-hit thoughts on the squad.
Extension of the 53-man roster
As usual, the practice squad serves as an extension of the main roster. The Patriots abided by this regulation again this season, loading up in potential areas of weakness. As the main roster currently holds five wide receivers — after N’Keal Harry landed on the injured reserve — New England kept a pair on their practice squad in Kristian Wilkerson and Tre Nixon.
New England also made sure to double-dip in the defensive backfield with Myles Bryant and D’Angelo Ross as well as at the quarterback position with Brian Hoyer and Garrett Gilbert. Both positions seemed thin on the 53-man roster.
Quarterback depth added
Speaking of quarterbacks, it was no surprise the team would add more bodies to the depth chart after just Mac Jones made the 53-man squad. New England added two familiar faces.
Hoyer’s return was no surprise, as he was originally released to provide the Patriots with roster flexibility early in September. He’ll likely be elevated to the active roster before Week 1 in some sort of capacity. The Patriots used a similar tactic at the kicker position last year, waiting to elevate off their practice squad just before their first game — as every team can elevate up to two practice squad players to the active roster before 4 p.m. ET the day before their scheduled game.
As for Gilbert, the veteran quarterback was with New England’s practice squad for the end of 2014 until the following June. Gilbert was competing for the role of backup quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys, but the Texas native was ultimately was released on cutdown day. He will help run the scout team as Hoyer plays mentor and coach to the rookie starter.
Kicker and fullback competition
Despite Quinn Nordin winning the starting kicker job in training camp and the preseason, he still will have Nick Folk looking over his shoulder. The undrafted free agent has a powerful leg, but could watch Folk take over if accuracy continues to be an issue.
The practice squad additions also brought some competition to Foxborough at the fullback position. Jakob Johnson has been solid since taking over for James Develin, but that didn't stop the Patriots from adding rookie Ben Mason to the practice squad. Mason is a big and tough lead-blocker who also played special teams in college. Coming from Michigan, he looks like a prototypical Belichick player.
With the 2020 practice squad rules continuing over to 2021, teams can hold up to six veterans with an unlimited number of accrued seasons. This helps team add quality and dependable depth on the practice squad — something the Patriots definitely took advantage of.
Despite keeping Hoyer and Folk, New England also used one of their six spots on veteran tight end Matt LaCosse. LaCosse got off to a strong start this summer before getting hurt in the first joint practice against the Philadelphia Eagles. With new top end talent added at the position in free agency, there was no spot for him to work his way back on the 53-man roster.
However, as the Patriots have dealt with several other health concerns at the position throughout the offseason, LaCosse leaves them with quality option at the position if needed.