There are 84 players on the Patriots roster and in less than a week, on Aug. 27, the team will have to trim its rank and file down to 75 members.
Just four days after the first cut date, the 53-man roster will have to be set on Aug. 31.
Before the Patriots face the Lions, there are only a few roster spots up for grabs left, especially with the possibility of a third quarterback on the roster – Tim Tebow. Positions of high interest are wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, and safety, with a select number of players in each group battling across positions.
So what’s the roster going to look like? Based partly on the number of players the team has kept at each position out of training camp in prior years, this year’s current crop of draft selections, and players slated for the physically unable to perform list, here’s my projection of who makes the cut.
So far, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has given no indication that Tim Tebow will not be on the roster.
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Running backs (5)
There’s no reason the Patriots cannot keep five running backs to begin the season, which they did in 2012 and 2010. Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, and Leon Washington all provide something different and are quite talented. But with all five on the team, the Patriots will be thin elsewhere on the roster.
Tight ends (4)
The Patriots could possibly put Rob Gronkowski on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, opening a roster spot for someone else. The team also carried four tight ends to start the 2012 season. But they’ve never had five, which leaves at least two out in a crowd of six. My guess is it’s Daniel Fells, a veteran that could likely get picked up elsewhere, and the recently signed Evan Landi.
Wide receivers (6)
The Patriots kept six wide receivers to start the 2010 and 2011 regular season. Considering the size of the quarterback, tight end, and running back groups, wide receiver Matthew Slater may seem like a luxury as a core special teams player. Luckily for him, he is highly valued by the team. On the outside looking in are Kamar Aiken, Quentin Sims, Mark Harrison and Johnathan Haggerty.
Offensive linemen (8)
This is the one group on offense that has the most flexibility, allowing for other position groups to swell while it shrinks. Dan Connolly, Will Svitek, and Marcus Cannon can all play multiple positions, making it easier on the Patriots come decision time. The team carried 11 offensive linemen in 2012, but just eight in 2011. Some consideration should be given to the relatively young group of backups on the roster who will likely have practice squad eligibility and can be brought back in to help in a pinch.
Defensive linemen (9)
Seventh-round draft pick Michael Buchanan and 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette squeeze into a tight group here. The Patriots will have to make a decision on Canadian Football League import Armond Armstead, who is currently on the non-football injury list. And Jermaine Cunningham, who has been absent with an unknown injury, appears to be the odd man out.
There should be no surprises here. Steve Beauharnais is a seventh-round pick who has some special teams value and Dane Fletcher can provide insurance in case Brandon Spikes goes down with an injury. Linebackers Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian, who have been core special teams players, are likely the victim of larger position groups on offense.
It helps that Devin McCourty can move back and fourth from safety to corner. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who has the potential to be a starter on this team when healthy, can still make the team if the Patriots determine there is a player to be dropped elsewhere.
The Patriots should move on from second-round pick Tavon Wilson, who has not developed well reading and reacting in passing situations. Rookie Duron Harmon, along with Steve Gregory, should be the team’s primary backups. Considering the team has kept only four safeties in the past three years, it would be a stretch to add one more now.
Stephen Gostkowski (K)
Zoltan Mesko (P)
Danny Aiken (LS)
Zoltan Mesko will likely beat out rookie Ryan Allen because he excels at directional punting.
Zuri Berry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.