All About the Bottom of the Roster Players Tonight
First and foremost, the Patriots (and Giants), biggest goal for tonight’s game is to come out healthy. But there are five things to watch for from a Patriots perspective. Saturday comes to the cut-down to the 53-man roster and there are still some intense positional battles going on.
Tonight isn’t about the starters, although players like Tom Brady and Julian Edelman made the trip. Although they may possibly see some action, tonight is about the players on the bubble. The Patriots are going to cut 22 players currently on the roster, and several will be difficult choices. These players are getting a final opportunity to make this team or to show a potential new team what they can do. Here are our five positional areas to watch for tonight:
Running Back Battle Comes Down to Two: Looking at the game tonight, the battle comes down to Tyler Gaffney and D.J. Foster. Who will the Patriots keep? Will either make the roster or will they cut loose both in the hopes of landing both back on the practice squad and pick up another running back not on the roster?
With LeGarrette Blount, James White, Brandon Bolden and FB/TE James Develin seemingly safe, that leaves a single roster slot open. Gaffney had a nice game against the Saints and ran well against the Panthers a week ago. He’s the prototypical big back who can carry the ball between the tackles and catch the odd pass out of the backfield.
Foster is still a largely unknown quantity but with a ton of upside, especially catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s an extremely intriguing player who was both a running back and wide receiver at Arizona State and showed lightning quickness out of the backfield in the spring. But then he pulled a hamstring and missed nearly all of training camp.
I expect we’ll see a ton of these two tonight as the other players with the exception of Joey Iosefa probably won’t see much playing time. The one issue is, will Foster clear waivers and be available to be brought back onto the practice squad if he’s let go? I don’t think so.
Interior Offensive Line Still Up for Grabs: Specifically, the right side is still a question mark. Shaq Mason broke his hand and is on the shelf for the time being. Josh Kline is dealing with a shoulder issue although he will probably play some against the Giants. With those two guys hurting right now, who steps up?
The most obvious choice this spring was Jonathan Cooper. The Patriots brought him over in the Chandler Jones trade and throughout the spring he was getting all of the first-team reps. But he’s suffering from plantar fasciitis and went down in the very first padded practice on July 30. He just returned to the field this week and is a bigger unknown to the Patriots than perhaps even Foster. If he’s able to go this week, then he’ll be the guy to watch.
Ted Karras has been out there and battling all summer, something Bill Belichick always seems to remark upon in his press conferences, players available and working out daily. Karras isn’t the most athletically gifted offensive lineman but he’s more than made up for that in the physicality department. He’s tough, plays to the whistle and brings the Logan Mankins type of mean streak to his play. He’s been versatile too, not only has he played guard but taken some snaps at center as well.
With Belichick, the more you can do sometimes, the more valuable you are and Karras will be one of those tough guys to part with. The rest of the offensive line starters seem set. The only other question is, do they keep four tackles and does Cameron Fleming make the 53? He’ll get plenty of looks tonight at both right tackle and as the extra blocking tight end…the more you do.
Cornerback Choice Will Be Tough: The Patriots seem set with their top three corners with starters Malcolm Butler, and Logan Ryan returning. Rookie Cyrus Jones seems to have passed Justin Coleman for the third or slot corner position. Coleman still looks in good shape to make the team, so the three players vying for one final spot have a final chance to impress the coaches.
Cre’Von LeBlanc has probably impressed more than the other two and has gotten plenty of reps earlier in games. He’s shown good cover skills and physicality and the ability to make plays while the ball is in the air. Belichick spoke on Tuesday about why this skill is important and some players seem to have it ingrained. But he’s been dealing with a hip issue. Will he play this week? And if not, has he done enough to stick?
Jonathan Jones and Darryl Roberts are just behind LeBlanc in terms of cornerback play. Both have had good and bad moments this summer, but each brings a special teams’ element to the table that LeBlanc doesn’t have. Keep your eyes on each. The more you do (Pt.3).
Wide Receivers Try to Make Final Push: The Patriots seem to have their wide receiver positions set, but some questions still remain. Danny Amendola is still on the PUP. Will he stay on it for the first six weeks of the season or will he be able to start the season on time? Rookie Malcolm Mitchell was quickly becoming a part of the passing offense when he dislocated his elbow during the game against the Saints. He’s now back to practicing with the team in positional drills but may not be ready to go in Arizona.
It comes down to Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson, and DeAndre Carter. Martin has the most upside, he was a small but key part of the offense a year ago and also helped the team by returning punts and kicks. He was given a contract extension in January with a $600,000-dollar bonus. He’s missed some valuable time this summer but if he can show the coaches that he’s able to knock off the rust, his status should be secure on the roster.
Is Dobson reportedly on the trading block? So with that said, he’ll probably turn in the game of the week against the Giants right? He’s been an enigma in his time in New England. Just when you’re ready to write him off, he turns it around and makes you see what they saw in him. Amendola’s status will directly tie into Dobson’s. If Amendola goes on PUP to start the year, I think Dobson may have the edge over Carter.
Carter has played well this summer and has flashed numerous times. With him, it comes down to a numbers crunch but he could turn few heads with a standout performance against the Giants.
Interior Defensive Line: The Patriots cut ties to veteran and free agent signee Terrance Knighton, who most of us had as a lock earlier this summer. But he struggled in learning the Pats’ two-gap system and it opened the door for a couple of guys who are playing really well. With Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine and Alan Branch roster locks, there is still room on the roster for one more. Markus Kuhn and Anthony Johnson have both played well, albeit in different roles.
Kuhn came over in free agency from the Giants and wasn’t given much of a shot to make the roster. Well, with injuries and such to start the spring and summer workouts, he got a lot of solid, first-team reps and has been another big, run-stuffing presence inside. He’s been a pleasant surprise after arriving with a not-so-stellar reputation.
Johnson, on the other hand, is an undersized, penetrating defensive tackle who has really come on lately. He’s played well all summer but didn’t get a ton of reps to really show what he can do. He’s built more along the lines of a Dominique Easley. I would expect both to play a ton of snaps tonight. If each plays well, then the coaches will have to decide on another big body inside or a slightly smaller more athletic pass rusher.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have some post-game critique and analysis.