FOXBOROUGH -- Training camp has come to a close with the team more squarely focused on whittling down its roster from a bloated number of 87 than worrying about the health and availability of Tom Brady.
That’s a huge positive since Wednesday’s scare.
And as the Patriots move forward, the team still needs to figure out roles for a number of players going into the 2013 season. The position battles are alive and well. And injuries, while thankfully not connected to Brady, will still affect roster decisions.
In the team’s second preseason game tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there are quite a few offensive players who are competing for positions that deserve more attention. Here are three of high importance:
1. Brandon Bolden -- The second-year running back out Mississippi still has a lot to prove while fending off a surging LeGarrette Blount. The difference between the two may be their special teams value. Unfortunately for Bolden, in the team’s first preseason game he made the mistake of running into Eagles punter Brad Wing. That can’t happen again.
“I take full responsibility for that,” Bolden said. “I came up field, got pushed. I should've gotten out of his way.”
Bolden had been slowed in camp due to an unknown ailment, but says he’s 100 percent healthy now. While it is considered that Bolden is competing with Blount,
2. Josh Boyce -- If there is one player that has had an up and down camp -- and then up and down again -- it’s Boyce. The fourth-round draft pick out of TCU has worked with the first and second-team groups, but he is clearly behind the undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. Because of the potential talent between those two, as well as that of Aaron Dobson, the team was able to release all of their veteran wide receiver signings, including Michael Jenkins and Lavelle Hawkins.
With an eye on game performance, the team has to figure out where Boyce stands in a largely settled position group.
“To try and separate yourself,” Boyce says, “[you have to] learn from your mistakes, do everything coach asks you to, and then make plays. That's the big thing for a receiver, you got to make the plays when it comes to you.”
Boyce was targeted once in the first preseason game and recorded no catches.
3. Will Svitek -- Once again, the big tackle will man the right guard position for the Patriots against the Buccaneers. It’s an interesting situation for Svitek, who at 6-6 and 310 pounds, does not look like your typical NFL guard. He has substituted for the injured Marcus Cannon and Dan Connolly, both of whom have returned to practice, but have yet to take part in contact drills.
Svitek had never played guard before.
“This is basically my first two weeks at guard,” Svitek said. “So it's good for me. It's teaching me the whole picture of the offensive line, the offense, and helping with techniques. It's good to be versatile.
“I know they have a history here of moving guys around. They like versatility. So I knew it was an option. I knew at some point in my career I was going to have to bounce around and do different things. So I'm open and I'm willing to do whatever the team needs me to do at that point and just try and work hard.”
The key word is versatility. Svitek and Cannon are natural tackles. Connolly, an interior lineman, has played at both guard positions and center. Depending on the health of Cannon and Connolly, the Patriots are going to have tough decisions to make -- especially if Svitek has another good outing.
5 things to watch in Friday’s game
1. Tom Brady’s reps -- I think it’s appropriate to be concerned if Brady is exposed at length to Adrian Clayborn and the Tampa Bay defense.
2. The wide receivers -- Were going to keep watching them until we are sure which combination of the core five we can expect to contribute the most and in what roles. You should too, but mostly because they’re all very talented.
3. Secondary rotation -- At the top of the food chain, we know Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty, and Adrian Wilson will start. But how will Steve Gregory fit in? Logan Ryan? Marquice Cole? The figure to be a big part of the defense. And it will be interesting to see if Cole, not Ryan, is on the field first.
4. The next best thing? -- Tommy Kelly exploded into the Eagles backfield last week, and with the help of Chandler Jones, had an immediate impact. Where else can we expect that kind of pass rush? We’re still waiting on Marcus Benard, Justin Francis, and Jake Bequette to make an impact.
5. Jamie Collins -- The Patriots’ top draft choice has been getting a lot of run in the past week in practice, both at outside linebacker and as a pass rusher. It’ll be interesting to see how he plays against the Bucs and what kind of impact he’ll have week over week. Against the Eagles, he had two combined tackles.
Tweet of the week
After three days of joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rutgers contingency decided it was time for a family photo. In all, there are 17 former Scarlet Knights between the two teams, including eight Patriots.
Boston.com user MikeInNewton commenting on "Belichick brushes off Cary Williams’s comments about dirty play":
"Is this guy really saying that his new team is a bunch of [expletive]? Dope."
That was exactly my thought as well. Williams, while ripping the Patriots for what he perceived as dirty play, came off sounding much more critical of his own teammates. Culturally, the Eagles do not have the same edge as the Baltimore Ravens, Williams’ previous team. And if that’s the end game, to get the Eagles to somehow have more edge to them, I’m not sure fighting Aaron Dobson will have its intended effect anyways. That Philly defense is just terrible.
Plugging this and that
I joined Adam 12 on RadioBDC to talk about the Patriots, Tom Brady's injury, and Tim Tebow's role on the team.
What’s to come
- On Thursday Aug. 22, the Patriots will be in Detroit to play the Lions for their third preseason game.
- On Tuesday Aug. 27, all NFL teams will have to pare down their rosters to 75 players.
- On Saturday Aug. 31, the Patriots and the rest of the NFL will have to trim its roster to 53 players for the regular season.
- At 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, the Patriots will open their 2013 regular season at the Buffalo Bills. That’s 24 days from now.