By: Derek Havens
After a whirlwind of cuts around the NFL, team rosters are finally set. Well, for now anyways.
We all know today’s 53-man roster, won’t be the same as it is to end the season. In fact, there’s a good chance changes are made even before the Patriots kickoff in Buffalo week one.
As the Patriots roster stands now, however, a lot of questions come to mind. After all, there were some surprise transactions the team made over the weekend. Adrian Wilson to Injured Reserve, Leon Washington’s release and how could I not mention Tim Tebow being let go? Of course, to some that move was not a surprise at all.
Looking at the team now, there are a few questions facing the team right off the bat. Here are five concerns about the Patriots roster.
– Kick Returner: When Leon Washington was signed this off-season, fans were clamoring about the boost he would give New England’s return game. Since the departure of Ellis Hobbs, the Patriots have struggled to gain any significant boost on a consistent basis on kickoffs.
Washington was supposed to give the unit just that, but now he’s a free agent. There’s a chance he returns after week one, when the team does not have to guarantee his salary for the season, but for now the team seems to have a hole at the position. Devin McCourty figures to be the best option, but he’s shown to be lackluster more often than not. LeGarrette Blount is also an option.
– Who Plays Opposite of McCourty: Adrian Wilson was supposed to be a veteran presence and enforcer over the middle for the Pats, but now he won’t be in the mix after being placed on Injured Reserve. Steve Gregory looks like he will return to the starting safety spot, next to McCourty, after starting 12 games for the team in 2012.
Gregory exceeded expectations last season, but New England could have used an upgrade at the position. Rookie Duron Harmon and second-year player Tavon Wilson could also be factors, but they’re most likely only rotational options for now. While McCourty should be very good, Gregory will need to improve in order for this secondary to improve.
– Cornerback: As of now, the Patriots have five cornerbacks on their roster. So, on the surface the team seems to be in decent shape, but Alfonso Dennard’s pending legal situation — his hearing for suspicion of Driving Under the Influence — is set for two days before the season opener. If he is unable to play for any reason, the team will be in danger.
The thought of McCourty moving back to cornerback is an option, but then the safety position is even more of a question mark. The lack of depth puts a lot of pressure on the team’s cornerbacks, especially the rookie Ryan. To his credit, however, he has played well throughout training camp and preseason.
Marquice Cole is mostly just a special teams player and a short term fix at best. The last image many Patriots fans have of 2012 is Cole taking a slay ride attempting to tackle Baltimore wide receivers. The team seems confident Dennard won’t miss time, but they’re taking a gamble.
– Defensive Line: Similar to cornerback, defensive line depth is an issue. Specifically the interior after Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. The duo of Wilfork and Kelly should be very good, but behind them are two undrafted rookie free agents; Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis.
There is a good chance the Pats look to bolster the interior line and it seems the team is targeting big-bodied, young athletes to fill the void. New England should show a base 4-3 defense, but I would expect many 3-4 looks as well. It appears the team will stay multiple yet again. Now the question is, who will step up?
– Unknown Commodities: There are some big shoes to fill in several different spots on the roster; wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle, cornerback and punter to name a few. The good news, the Patriots seem to have a lot of youth at those positions. And while there is reason for optimism, you can take this as a positive or negative. There is also reason to be concerned about these unknown commodities.
Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Zach Sudfeld, Logan Ryan and Ryan Allen are all examples of rookies who have flashed in training camp or the preseason. With the regular season less than a week away, however, it’s time for the rookies to make an impact on the field. While that might be unfair to put pressure on them immediately, there are not a whole lot of options for the team at those positions. In order for the Pats to be successful, especially early in the season, these rookie players will have to step up and develop quickly. A challenge that will be hard to achieve, but the talent is certainly there for them to do so.
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