With 10 practices in the books, the Patriots roster is beginning to take shape. Certain players are lining up with the first-team units on their side of the ball, other players are taking a back seat, and others still are nursing injuries and missing out on valuable opportunities.
While those first-team reps can be misleading -- sometimes, a player will get reps in "opportunity time" in order to see how he matches up with top competition -- they can be part of the puzzle in determining who has a better or worse chance of making the final roster.
Here's one man's opinion of what that roster could look like at the end of training camp.
QB (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow
Missed the cut (0)
Tebow hasn't looked good in practices, but I find it hard to believe they would bring him in if they didn't have designs on keeping him during the regular season. He's been spotted on special teams as the personal punt protector, as well, so the team is interested in seeing how else he can contribute.
RB (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, Brandon Bolden
Missed the cut (4): LeGarrette Blount, George Winn, James Develin, Ben Bartholomew
Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount have been battling for that last roster spot, and although Bolden was out for a few days, he has returned to the practice field. This is an ongoing battle, and the complexion could change in the coming weeks.
WR (6): Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater
Missed the cut (6): Kamar Aiken, Michael Jenkins, Mark Harrison, Quentin Sims, Lavasier Tunei, Johnathan Haggerty
Given his practice performances, Kenbrell Thompkins can no longer be considered a dark horse for the roster. He's an odds-on favorite. Kamar Aiken is right on the bubble, and unless he begins to show significant value on special teams, he could remain there. Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater both have a leg-up on him in that area.
TE (4): Zach Sudfeld, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui
Missed the cut (2): Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Ford
With Gronkowski still on the sideline, it's hard to say with any degree of certainty that he'll be ready to go Week 1. Starting the season on the six-week physically unable to perform list opens up a roster spot at tight end, allowing the Patriots to keep one of the four that they may not have otherwise kept. Sudfeld's superior size and athleticism leads me to believe he'll be the opening day starter, although Fells is the better blocking tight end. The Patriots will have a tough choice on their hands if Gronkowski is ready to come off the PUP.
C (1): Ryan Wendell
Missed the cut (0)
The Patriots lone true center is Ryan Wendell; Dan Connolly has some experience at the position, and could move there in a pinch.
G (4): Logan Mankins, Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Tyronne Green
Missed the cut (3): Chris McDonald, Luke Patterson, Josh Kline
Connolly hasn't practiced much, as a result of his ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery, Marcus Cannon looked ready to unseat him for the starting job at right guard before Cannon suffered an injury of his own. Connolly may be asked to take a pay cut from his lofty $3,333,333 cap number in 2013, but his positional versatility makes him one of the most valuable offensive linemen on the roster.
T (3): Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Will Svitek
Missed the cut (5): Brice Schwab, Marcus Zusevics, Elvis Fisher, Kevin Haslam, R.J. Mattes
Three tackles may seem a little low, but not when you consider that all three tackles have NFL experience playing and starting at both left tackle and right tackle. That kind of versatility creates depth in and of itself.
DE (5): Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan, Marcus Benard
Missed the cut (3): Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette, Jason Vega
Benard has shown the potential to be a solid situational rusher for the Patriots, and has even worked in Cunningham's 2012 role as an interior rusher in the team's nickel defense. It appears the two are vying for one spot, and Benard gets the edge for his role on special teams. Same goes for the battle between Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette.
DT (4): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Marcus Forston, Joe Vellano
Missed the cut (4): Armond Armstead, Scott Vallone, Cory Grissom, Anthony Reshad White
The defensive tackle position is about as deep as a kiddie pool for the Patriots, with just three players showing themselves truly worthy of the roster. Armond Armstead has yet to practice, and is currently listed with the non-football injury designation due to an infection; he could be kept off the roster until everything clears up. Joe Vellano may otherwise be a practice squad player, but for now, he will take Armstead's spot. Vellano has stepped up in recent practices after a tough start to camp, and he was constantly a force at Maryland (14 tackles for loss and six sacks as a senior), so he's proven he can produce in games.
ILB (3): Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais
Missed the cut (2): Niko Koutouvides, Jeff Tarpinian
Steve Beauharnais fills the special teams role of Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian, and has played significantly more on defense in practices than both of those players. The Patriots could elect to keep one of the two players for special teams purposes, but their value doesn't go much further than that, as neither have been spotted much in team drills.
OLB (3): Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins
Missed the cut (2): Mike Rivera, A.J. Edds
Nothing has changed here since the first 53-man roster projection. Much like the inside linebackers that missed the cut, Rivera and Edds both suffer from a lack of value on defense. Both have been spotted working with the second- and third-team units.
CB (5) Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Marquice Cole
Missed the cut (3): Ras-I Dowling, Brandon Jones, Justin Green
Ras-I Dowling has exactly the physical tools most people want in a cornerback, with height and long arms working to his advantage. His inability to stay healthy, though, is a problem that continues to surface. He has missed practices during training camp already, and did not practice on Tuesday with the Eagles. Cole also offers some value on special teams.
SS (3): Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon
Missed the cut (1): Nate Ebner
Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon have earned a majority of the snaps with the top unit on defense, with a lot of mixing-and-matching going on in terms of where they play, who they line up next to, etc. Nate Ebner was more known for his contributions on special teams, but he didn't play much on defense (36 snaps in 2012) and hasn't played with the first-team defense at all in training camp. Tavon and Harmon both add value on special teams to make up for the loss of Ebner.
FS (2): Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory
Missed the cut (1): Kannoris Davis
No shock here, and not much of a change from last time, except that Harmon moves to strong safety. Steve Gregory has earned reps at multiple safety spots on the first unit, and his spot on the roster appears safe.
ST (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken
Missed the cut (1): Ryan Allen
Ryan Allen has looked good punting the ball, but Mesko has developed into one of the best punters in the NFL. The Patriots could try putting Allen on the practice squad, but another team might scoop him off waivers. He's been that good.
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