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    June 21, 2009
The Roster Puzzle---Mini-Camp---The Last Step Before the Real Deal
By:  Stan Jaksina
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

Firstly, there has been some roster shuffling before camp opened. Seven have departed and three others returned. There were no surprises really on those that were cut; RB Cuff, TE Listorti, OL Duckett, DE KSmith, LN Craig, S McClinton and P Perez. All had to show something to stay, and none of these did. They brought back P Tom Malone to give Hansen some competition. They also signed free agent Paris Lenon, who led Detroit's D in the tackle department last year. That is not important, but he's also a special team's player. He's not being looked at as a starter at inside linebacker, but as a backup and he might be solid there. They also brought running back Patrick Pass back and that seemed to be a head scratcher, given he's been out of football for a time. Not a surprise that he was the first to fall, cut after a day of minicamp, a quick tryout and not up to snuff. A few days ago everyone's binkie, Antonio Appleby, was discarded. Obviously he was nit up to par to even get to camp.

What is of note is that six will have to be cut before training camp, although I expect a few more cards will be shuffled in and out. But there is also the possibility of a few of the twelve or thirteen players that missed minicamp, starting training camp on active PUP. I really doubt that all that many will end up on Reserve PUP and be gone for the first few games. McKenzie will go Injured Reserve once signed and it's possible Tate could go directly to reserve PUP. As for the ten others, most likely Barnes and White will be cut. Defensive backs Ventrone, and Richardson should be ready as should McGowan and LeVoir, who have ankle injuries. From what Reiss has said, it seems Mayo will be all set to go and defensive lineman Green seems like WillieMcG, in that he has a lot of chronic issues and slowly eases into camp year after year. Meriwether is a question mark as his injury status is unknown. Warren, with two groin surgeries, could be this year's 07 Seymour; a player that was injured and ended up a surprise PUP. Time will tell.

It is pretty clear is that even with the twelve draftees, the team will not have all that much trouble getting to the eighty for training camp. In past years, even with the extra NFLE attendees, it's been difficult to get to that opening roster of training camp.

While some people have the roster of fifty three all ready set, there's a lot to go before that can be done. The specter of injuries is always something that seems to play a part in this process, sometimes more than less, but it is always there.

Below is a quick look at all positions, the players the team has and a bit about possibilities of camp and beyond.

QUARTERBACKS (4)-----Tom Brady, Kevin O'Connell, Matt Gutierrez, Brian Hoyer---

Brady and O'Connell will obviously be on the team, but will KO be strong enough to really fill that backup role? If he can not, they could bring in a vet, but I tend to think that will happen sooner than later, if that is the path. If there is no veteran, they will bring all four to camp and then there will be a battle for third quarterback. If O'Connell is really strong, it's possible that the third QB will be on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (6)-----Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Eric Kettani---

The big four are all set, Faulk, Morris, Maroney and Taylor. This is a strong rotation, but the question is whether they wish to keep Green-Ellis as a young and upcoming back. They may wish to keep him for the future and to be there in case of injuries, but that might not be possible, given the scarcity of available positions. It's looking more like Hochstein or one of the tight ends will be the leading blocker.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)-----Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Joey Galloway, Greg Lewis, Sam Aiken, Matt Slater, Brandon Tate, Julien Edelman, Robert Ortiz, Tyree Barnes, Shun White, Terrence Nunn---

Moss, Welker and Galloway are the leading the corps. Lewis is the young one who might make big strides as an understudy. Aiken is a top ST guy and Edelman looks like he will be as well. Both may be a step from true backups as well. Slater is also in that category, but with defensive skill as well; more like Ventrone. Tate is a top notch future receiver, as his knee is healing; possibly PUP and a late season addition or IR. Ortiz, Nunn, White and Barnes--Ortiz, Barnes, Nunn, and White are all young, but will one rise above the others and project? If so they could earn a PSquad spot.

TIGHT ENDS (5)-----Ben Watson, Alex Smith, Chris Baker, Dave Thomas, Tyson DeVree---

There are three quality tight ends, another that is just below that and a fifth that could be an up and comer. This could be a very deep group and it will most interesting if DeVree and Thomas step up a bit, for if that happens, one of the top three could be traded. It is quite possible that they will keep four, but this will be incredibly interesting in camp.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (17)-----Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins, Matt Light, Stephen Neal, Nic Kaczur, Russ Hochstein, Mark LeVoir, Billy Yates, Dan Connolly, Wesley Britt, Ryan O'Callaghan, Ryan Wendell, Al Johnson, Richard Ohrnberger, Sebastion Vollmer, George Bussey, Jermail Porter---

With this many linemen, it is possible some may be dropped or traded as it is a large group. Besides the solid starting five of Koppen, Light, Mankins, Neal and Kaczur, there are three rookies, Vollmer, Ohrenburger and Bussey. Two will make the fifty three and the other is a prime candidate for the Practice Squad. Out of Johnson, Hochstein, Connolly and Yates, one or two may be kept for the inside. Hochstein with his versatility for a blocking back and tight end, may have the inside track. Out of LeVoir, O'Callaghan and Britt, one needs to be the prime tackle backup. If Wendell is given a shot, it will be from the PSquad and that might be said more so of Porter, who could be a diamond in the rough. That is a long shot, but with work from Dante and fellow wrestler Neal, he may have a chance. Withe excess linemen, it is very possible for a trade or cuts before camp or just after a week or two.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (11)-----Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Mike Wright, LeKevin Smith, Titus Adams, Ron Brace, Myron Pryor, Darryl Richard. Steve Williams---

Seymour, Warren and Wilfork are all top notch, but the big question is whether Warren will be ready to play right off. If not, then there will be a scramble for that starting spot, among Green, Wright and Smith. Green could be the odd man out with his high salary cap number, but also could be the one gets an extension to lower it. Brace will be slated as the backup nose with Pryor, Richard, Adams and Williams vying for the Practice Squad. I really hope that Wilfork and Seymour will be extended, but feel that there is much chance with big Vince. If this is Seymour's last here, I really hope they have a solid replacement in mind, or a duo of players. As of now it is a strong unit, but minus Vince and Richard, it will have a large drop off..

LINEBACKERS (12)-----Tedy Bruschi, Jerod Mayo, Adalius Thomas, Gary Guyton, Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable, Vince Redd, Tully Banta-Cain, Eric Alexander, Vinnie Ciurciu, Tyrone McKenzie, Paris Lenon---

This is a good group of linebackers. On the inside there is Mayo, the aging Bruschi and Guyton, although he could also be shifted outside at times. Thomas could be used inside as well and then there's the Tank experiment of last year which could continue. Having a hybrid safety take a position there would help a lot with the depth question. The wild cards are Lenon and Alexander who could be backups or only special team players or out the door. Ciurciu seems like the one who will follow in Izzo's steps as a ST only LB. Sadly, draft pick McKenzie will be on IR and not a factor this year. On the outside, it's Thomas on one side and a battlle of four for the other. Woods and Crable have a step up, but I would think Redd and the reacquired Banta-Cain would also be in this mix. Whether it is one or two who take the Vrabel position, it will be exciting to see the progress of the young ones.

DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD (14)-----Terrence Wheatley, Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, James Sanders, Brandon Meriwether, Jonathon Wilhite, Mike Richardson, Tank Williams, Brandon McGowan. Antwain Spann, Ray Ventrone, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, Jamal Love---

The cornerback position has young and old up for spots, from vet Springs and Bodden to sophs Wheatley, Wilhite and Richardson to rookie Butler. The starters, nickel and dime will come from these. Safety is much similar, although with solid starters Sanders and Meriwether and rookie Chung, it may only leave room for one other. This could be Williams or McGowan. Spann and Ventrone will make the team on ST play and that might be hard. Love is a rookie that, could be a developmental addition to the Practice Squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS (5)-----Stephen Gostkowski, Chris Hansen, Nathan Hodel, Jake Ingram, Tom Malone---

Gostkowski will continue upping his stock as a solid kicker and it looks like Hansen will be the punter as his only competition is Malone. The battle here is between vet Hodel and rookie Ingram for the long snapper position.

Injuries change things and hopefully that bug will be a bit weaker as it was in 07, but who knows really how bad it will be. That will always be an unwanted factor in determination of the roster puzzle.

There may only about a dozen spots open and I really believe that special teams play may be a large factor in determining who will stay and who will not. If they think the tight end type of player is needed for special teams, they may keep four. It may be that others like Ventrone will be the ones let go. This is where I believe the last few spots will be won or lost.

And now it is the dead time, five weeks to camp. One is signed, with eleven to follow. Some will need to be cut and there will be some shuffling of the deck.

I can not wait for it all to start for REAL!!!

 Stan Jaksina
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