The key to understanding the New England Patriots is to accept that nothing should be taken for granted.
There are always shocking cuts and surprises to be had this time of year. Still, as the team prepares to trim down its roster to 75 names, it seems as though most everyone at the top is safe.
The players who should be performing are doing so, and many of the battles appear to have decisive winners. A few guys are still duking it out at the lower levels, but not much changed following Friday’s 30-28 loss to Tampa Bay.
Stock rising: CB Marquice Cole made somewhat of a statement against the Bucs. He was strong covering the slot and showed up with a few pass breakups. The performance was likely enough to solidify his position ahead of Will Allen in the race for the final cornerback spot.
Stock falling: OL Marcus Cannon isn’t in danger of being cut, but he has been anything but reliable while filling in for Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. It was the same story Friday night as he was routinely beaten by his matchup.
QB -- In: (3) Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett. Analysis: Mallett may have closed the gap on Hoyer with his performance in the fourth quarter of Friday’s loss. He completed 7 of 13 passes for 66 yards with two touchdowns. He showed great poise on his final touchdown pass by evading the rush and delivering a low dart to Jesse Holley at the back of the end zone. Hoyer, meanwhile, spent his night on the sidelines.
RB/FB -- In: (5) Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Jeff Demps, Spencer Larsen. Out: Brandon Bolden, Eric Kettani. Analysis: The Patriots are running a lot of two-back sets and it appears that they will carry a fullback on the roster. Larsen suffered another setback by injuring his knee Friday night. Kettani may end up getting the nod if Larsen is not ready for the season opener.
TE -- In: (3) Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells. Out: Visanthe Shiancoe, Daniel Fells, Alex Silvestro, Tyler Urban, Jake Ballard. Analysis: Fells is coming off of the physically-unable-to-perform list and should serve as depth behind Gronkowski and Hernandez. Shiancoe remains on the outside as he continues to battle a hamstring injury.
WR -- In: (5) Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, Matthew Slater. Out: Jabar Gaffney, Jesse Holley, Jeremy Ebert, Donte Stallworth. Analysis: The fact that Stallworth was unable to get onto the field until late in the game with Welker sidelined for unknown reasons was telling. Gaffney may be in better standing with the coaching staff, but it’s impossible to tell as long as he remains sidelined with a leg injury.
OL -- In (8): Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Nick McDonald, Donald Thomas. Out: Jeremiah Warren,Markus Zusevics, Matt Kopa, Dustin Waldron, Derek Dennis, Darrion Weems, Dan Koppen. Analysis: This area of the roster remains difficult to predict. McDonald has the versatility to play across the line and negates the need to carry an extra blocker, but he suffered an arm injury Friday night. If that injury proves to be serious, Koppen, the long-time center, could end up back in the mix. Of course, guard Brian Waters could always decide to report and further shake up the depth chart.
DL -- In (10): Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Ron Brace, Justin Francis, Brandon Deaderick, Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham,Trevor Scott. Out: Justin Francis, Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren, Tim Bulman, Marcus Harrison, Aaron Lavarias, Marcus Forston. Analysis: The only debate at this point is whether or not undrafted rookie Justin Francis makes the team. Through three preseason games, Scott seems to have the inside track and it looks like Francis will start out on the practice squad. Pryor will likely begin the year on the physically unable to perform list. Forston could also be a candidate for the practice squad.
LB -- In: (6) Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, Bobby Carpenter, Jeff Tarpinian, Niko Koutouvides. Out: Tracy White, Mike Rivera. Analysis: It still looks like Tarpinian will play dual role on special teams and at linebacker to fill the void created by Dane Fletcher’s season-ending ACL injury. White remains sidelined with an injury, allowing Koutouvides to make the roster for his contributions on special teams.
DB -- In: (10) Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore, Marquice Cole, James Ihedigbo, Nate Ebner, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson. Out: Josh Barrett, Alfonzo Dennard, Will Allen, Sergio Brown, Ross Ventrone, Derrick Martin, Malcolm Williams. Analysis: Dennard returned to the field Friday night, but wasn’t given the opportunity to showcase his skills. The rookie is going to have to show up big over the next week to jump over Cole, who had a strong game cover the slot against the Bucs. Ebner continues to show up after playing just three defensive snaps last year at Ohio State and should make the team.