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Decisions loom for Patriots

Roster must take shape with season approaching

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 30, 2010

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With three preseason games in the books and the regular season rapidly approaching, tomorrow is the first day that NFL teams are required to start trimming their 80-man training camp rosters.

The first cut requires teams merely to get to 75 players, with the big one coming Saturday, when 53-man rosters are set.

So let’s take a look at the players on the Patriots’ roster, and which will remain come Saturday (* — denotes rookie):

QUARTERBACK

On the roster: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Zac Robinson*

Brady, now in his 11th season, is still one of the very best, and this preseason has looked as good as ever. Despite his contract status, The Franchise has been on the field for every practice and seems invigorated by the possibilities offered by the new tight ends. Hoyer has a full season under his belt and is more confident, though clearly he is untested if he were to be needed. But so was Matt Cassel once upon a time. Robinson clearly needs more time to learn, which he could get on the practice squad.

Who stays: Brady, Hoyer

RUNNING BACK

On the roster: Thomas Clayton, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Chris Taylor, Fred Taylor

Going without a bell cow makes sense given the pounding running backs can take, but the team should have a front-runner, and right now it is unclear who that would be. Fred Taylor and Morris might be the most productive runners, but both dealt with injuries last year. Bill Belichick said Friday that Maroney can “absolutely’’ help the Patriots this season, but his lack of carries in the preseason is a head-scratcher. The ageless Faulk, as always, will be called upon several times a game for a catch or carry.

Who stays: Faulk, Green-Ellis, Maroney, Morris, Fred Taylor

WIDE RECEIVER

On the roster: Sam Aiken, Julian Edelman, Buddy Farnham*, Darnell Jenkins, Randy Moss, Rod Owens*, Taylor Price*, Matthew Slater, Brandon Tate, Wes Welker

Welker’s recovery is nothing short of remarkable, and a contract-seeking Moss is lethal. Edelman can make things happen with the ball, and Tate gives the Patriots the return man they didn’t have last year. Price’s preseason has been unremarkable, but he is in no danger of being cut. The big decision will be between special teams aces Aiken and Slater for the final spot. Aiken gets the nod because of his experience and Slater’s inactivity because of injury.

Who stays: Aiken, Edelman, Moss, Price, Tate, Welker

TIGHT END

On the roster: Carson Butler, Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski*, Aaron Hernandez*, Rob Myers

Belichick has drafted first-rounders and signed free agents at this position, but none has worked out, until now. The potential of this group is exciting: Crumpler is a road grader in the run game and can still make plays, Gronkowski could be a red-zone weapon, and Hernandez might line up at every skill position on offense save quarterback. Myers has shown well in camp, but the numbers are working against him.

Who stays: Crumpler, Gronkowski, Hernandez

OFFENSIVE LINE

On the roster: George Bussey, Dan Connolly, Eric Ghiaciuc, Nick Kaczur, Dan Koppen, Ted Larsen*, Mark LeVoir, Matt Light, Stephen Neal, Rich Ohrnberger, Quinn Ojinnaka, Sebastian Vollmer, Thomas Welch*, Ryan Wendell

Light, Koppen, and Neal are known quantities, but beyond that things get murky. Vollmer is promising based on last year’s showing, though his footwork and recovery need improvement. Connolly is undoubtedly filling big shoes with Logan Mankins (contract dispute) not with the club and Kaczur (back surgery) likely out for the season. Though the passing offense will be strong, this line seems more suited for run blocking, with the middle in particular troublesome in protection.

Who stays: Bussey, Connolly, Koppen, LeVoir, Light, Neal, Ojinnaka, Vollmer, Wendell; Kaczur to injured reserve

DEFENSIVE LINE

On the roster: Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick*, Damione Lewis, Kyle Love*, Myron Pryor, Darryl Richard, Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright

The loss of Ty Warren for the season because of hip surgery has not gotten the attention it deserves. The veteran end was a standout contributor and must be replaced, while the team still looks for a suitable replacement for Richard Seymour, who’s been gone for a year. Wilfork can’t do it alone. Gerard Warren seems to be adjusting well to the 3-4, and Wright is capable, but the depth has taken a hit.

Who stays: Brace, Lewis, Pryor, Warren, Wilfork, Wright

LINEBACKER

On the roster: Eric Alexander, Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess, Jermaine Cunningham*, Dane Fletcher*, Gary Guyton, Jerod Mayo, Tyrone McKenzie, Marques Murrell, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes*, Thomas Williams, Pierre Woods

Banta-Cain, Burgess, and Cunningham will be counted on to provide pressure and set the edge, with likely a rotation of Mayo, Spikes, Guyton, and McKenzie inside. While that quartet is young, it has some promise, particularly in Spikes, who could be a thumper against the run. With Burgess back from his faux retirement, he’s reclaimed the starting spot from Murrell. Cunningham has yet to play because of injury. Alexander and Woods are core special teams players.

Who stays: Alexander, Banta-Cain, Burgess, Cunningham, Guyton, Mayo, McKenzie, Ninkovich, Spikes, Woods

DEFENSIVE BACK

On the roster: Kyle Arrington, Leigh Bodden, Sergio Brown*, Darius Butler, Patrick Chung, Terrence Johnson, Bret Lockett, Devin McCourty*, Brandon McGowan, Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Ross Ventrone*, Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite, DeAngelo Willingham

This is the youngest unit on the team and also one with a good deal of potential. Chung has taken a positive step and may push Sanders for playing time alongside Meriweather. McGowan has gotten snaps in the “big nickel’’ role Rodney Harrison once occupied. Bodden’s knee issue set him back, giving McCourty valuable first-team reps, but he will bounce back. Arrington was a special teams demon last year. An improved Wheatley may find himself traded.

Who stays: Arrington, Bodden, Butler, Chung, McCourty, McGowan, Meriweather, Sanders, Wilhite; Lockett to IR

SPECIALISTS

On the roster: Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Ingram, Zoltan Mesko*

Gostkowski is consistent, has established himself as one of the best in the league, and was rewarded with a contract extension last week. Mesko could be a weapon, able to pin teams deep. Ingram garners little attention, which is priority No. 1 for a long snapper.

Who stays: Gostkowski, Ingram, Mesko

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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