Training camp is 4½ weeks old. It’s time to meet the Turk.
The Turk is the nickname given to the team employee, usually a low-level staffer, who greets players at the door on cutdown day and instructs them to meet with the head coach in his office, playbook in hand.
If you get tapped by the Turk, your football career is about to hit a snag, or end.
The Patriots, currently at 84 players, have to get down to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. They’ll play their final exhibition game Thursday at the Giants, then have to cut down to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Patriots have 18 or 19 starting spots settled and most of their roster spots locked up, but Bill Belichick and his staff will have some tough decisions to round out their 53.
The Turk already visited New England on Sunday, with three veterans getting cut: defensive linemen Tommy Kelly and Will Smith, and linebacker James Anderson.
Using last Friday night’s exhibition game against the Panthers as our guide, let’s take a look at our latest projected roster. We’re not including two players who will start the season with four-game suspensions — Brandon Browner and Brian Tyms. (* — practice squad)
OFFENSE (24 players)
Quarterback (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo.
Just missed the cut: None.
Analysis: It’s still tempting to leave Mallett off the roster given how Garoppolo has looked in the three exhibitions, and here’s betting Belichick would take a low-round pick for Mallett. But it still seems like the most prudent move this year is to carry all three quarterbacks and let Garoppolo essentially redshirt. Plus, why would Belichick put Mallett in during the first quarter against Carolina to practice an unexpected change if he wasn’t going to keep him on the roster?
Running back (5): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden, FB James Develin.
Just missed the cut: Jonas Gray*, Roy Finch*.
Analysis: Ridley’s fumble in the second exhibition game has us thinking that the Patriots want a little depth at running back, so we’re putting Bolden back on the team for now. He can play special teams and serve as a backup to Shane Vereen in case of injury. Gray has looked good in limited preseason action and Finch has top-end speed. Both are worth keeping on the practice squad.
Wide receiver (5): Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins.
Just missed the cut: Jeremy Gallon*, Josh Boyce*, Wilson Van Hooser.
Analysis: The top five is pretty well established, although Dobson is lagging behind the others as he returns from a foot injury. Boyce, last year’s fourth-round pick, didn’t do anything as a rookie and hasn’t shown much in camp to warrant a spot. But the NFL’s recent expansion of practice squad eligibility will help Boyce, who is now eligible to be placed on the Patriots’ practice squad if he clears waivers. Gallon just returned to practice and is worth stashing on the practice squad.
Tight end (2): Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui.
Just missed the cut: Steve Maneri, Justin Jones.
Analysis: This will be a fluid situation throughout the season, but for now we’ve got the Patriots keeping only two tight ends, especially since Hoomanawanui should be healthy for Week 1, Develin can play tight end as well, and the Patriots use Josh Kline and Nate Solder a lot as a sixth offensive lineman. Maneri and Jones are camp bodies who will get a lot of snaps in the final exhibition game but won’t stick around for the regular season.
Offensive line (9): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, Bryan Stork (IR), Cameron Fleming, Jordan Devey.
Just missed the cut: Braxston Cave*, Jon Halapio*.
Analysis: One move that seems to make more and more sense is for the Patriots to put Stork, a fourth-round pick who hasn’t practiced since the first week of camp, on injured reserve and sit him out this season. That would allow them to keep both Wendell and Connolly, who offer a veteran presence and good versatility at center and guard. Devey didn’t look great against the Panthers but the coaching staff could keep him and Fleming as the final backups. The Patriots can also stash a couple of offensive linemen on the practice squad for depth.
DEFENSE (25 players)
Defensive line (9): Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano, Jerel Worthy, Michael Buchanan.
Just missed the cut: Tommy Kelly, Zach Moore*, Will Smith.
Analysis: Kelly’s cut was a little surprising, but not really given that he’s coming off a torn ACL and the team has a lot of young depth on the defensive line. Vellano has been playing a lot in the preseason and fits the 3-4 defense well. The Patriots traded a seventh-round pick for Worthy and will probably give him a few weeks into the regular season to work himself into playing shape and see if he can contribute. Smith, the longtime New Orleans Saint, had no chance of making the team.
Linebacker (6): Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Steve Beauharnais, Ja’Gared Davis, Darius Fleming.
Just missed the cut: Taylor McCuller*, James Anderson, Chris White.
Analysis: Anderson’s cut wasn’t surprising, as the Patriots would rather keep a trio of young linebackers to back up Mayo, Collins, and Hightower. Beauharnais, Davis, and Fleming have played well in camp and got significantly more playing time than Anderson against the Panthers. McCuller has played linebacker and fullback in camp and is the kind of versatile player Belichick will try to keep on the practice squad.
Cornerbacks (5): Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington, Malcolm Butler.
Just missed the cut: Daxton Swanson.
Analysis: Butler locked up a roster spot in the last week and should be a key special teams contributor. The only real question is who starts opposite Revis in the first four weeks. The guess here is Dennard gets the start on the outside, although Arrington will work in the slot and Ryan will get plenty of work at corner and safety.
Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner.
Just missed the cut: Jemea Thomas*.
Analysis: The feeling we get is that the strong safety job next to McCourty will be a rotation — Chung and Wilson used on first and second downs as an extra defender in the box, and Harmon or one of the cornerbacks in nickel and dime packages on passing downs. Chung, Wilson, and Ebner can all contribute on special teams.
Specialists (4): K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Danny Aiken, ST Matthew Slater.
Just missed the cut: None.
Analysis: Not much to discuss here as all four are locks.