By: Derek Havens
Undrafted rookie cornerback, Malcolm Butler, has stood out for the Patriots this summer. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots have gotten back to work in recent weeks, preparing for their 2014 season.
The current 90-man roster has players battling each other for jobs heading into the regular season. With first cuts looming (Aug. 26 to 75) the intensity has picked up. With training camp and two exhibition games under their belt, which players have been trending up and which players have seemingly declined?
Jimmy Garoppolo — When the Patriots took the rookie signal-caller in the second round, it sparked some debate in New England. Heading into training camp, many were fixated on what the Eastern Illinois prospect could do on the field and if he could challenge fourth-year QB, Ryan Mallett, for the backup job. It hasn’t been perfect, but Garoppolo has shown steady improvement from week-to-week and has shown promise moving forward.
James Develin — Last year, Develin was on the bubble and fighting for a job. As of now, however, he looks like a key contributor. I’m not expecting huge statistical production, but a tough, versatile and reliable player often finds himself a job with Bill Belichick. His physical, tone-setting style of play could bring some much-needed attitude in certain situations.
Brandon LaFell — The former Carolina Panthers wideout had a rough start to camp, but has looked much better as of late. He came with the reputation of dropping too many passes, which has been on display at times, but his large frame gives the Patriots a needed element to the offense and has begun to develop a rapport with Tom Brady. If he continues to grow within the offense, he could (and hopefully will be) a key contributor in the passing game.
Vince Wilfork — The 32-year-old defensive lineman, coming off a season-ending achilles injury, has been under scrutiny throughout the offseason. It’s fair to speculate whether he can return to the probowl player he was before getting hurt earlier in 2013. But throughout camp and to this point, the defensive captain has looked healthy and poised for a strong comeback. His presence on the interior will have a huge ripple effect on the entire defense.
Darrelle Revis — The All-Pro defensive back was the highlight of the offseason and expectations have been high since no. 24 took the field for the first time a few weeks ago. But “Revis Island” has looked spectacular on the field thus far and his ability to blanket opponent’s top receivers could bring tremendous value to the defense in the upcoming season.
Malcolm Butler — Every year there seems to be an undrafted player that sneaks onto New England’s roster. This year the Western Alabama cornerback has stood out and looks like an NFL caliber player. Cornerback is one of — if not the — hardest positions to play at the professional level and the Patriots have some quality depth on the roster. Butler’s competitive nature has flashed on the practice field and in games over the past few weeks.
Aaron Dobson/Dominique Easley/Bryan Stork — Fair or not, these young players are in the down category. While I think all can return to field and contribute this year, injuries have limited their time on the field to the point. Dobson (foot), Easley (knee) and Stork (leg) all could have roles if they can return relatively soon.
Dobson may be hurt the most by his missed time on the field, because often a player’s most significant “jump” happens between year one and year two. I’m still holding out hope Easley can return to action soon and add depth to the pass rush.
Will Smith — The veteran defensive end has been almost invisible on the field and does not look like he’ll be on the roster at the end of the month. The idea of a veteran adding situational pass rush ability is intriguing, but Smith does not seem like he possess the same explosiveness on the edge since returning from his knee injury that ended his 2013 season.
Josh Boyce — The second-year receiver has been disappointing over the past few weeks. While his timed speed and dynamic ability displayed in college is known, it has yet to be displayed on a consistent basis since being drafted last May. Simply put, he is being out-played by other receivers on the roster.
Duron Harmon — Going into training camp, the consensus was Harmon would be the starting safety next to Devin McCourty. Since camp as opened, though, he has been very quiet while other players continue to see a high number of snaps played at the position. Figuring out what the Patriots want to do in the secondary is almost impossible without any inside knowledge, but Harmon seems less and less like a guy poised for a starting role and more like a player fighting to keep a spot on the active roster for 2014.
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