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Rookies have tough task in making Patriots roster

Jacob Hollister, a rookie tight end out of Wyoming, has a chance to make the Patriots.
Jacob Hollister, a rookie tight end out of Wyoming, has a chance to make the Patriots. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

They’re officially open for 2017 football business at Gillette Stadium, with two dozen rookies reporting for training camp Monday as the Patriots begin their quest to win a second consecutive Super Bowl.

The veterans will sign in on Wednesday and the first public practice is set for Thursday morning at 9.

Among the newbies are 20 players looking to become the latest in a line of undrafted guys to make New England’s 53-man roster after turning heads in July and August.

The competition on the offensive side of the ball, where nine undrafted players will vie for precious few openings, will be interesting as the Patriots look to build depth along the offensive line and at tight end.

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In addition to draft picks Tony Garcia and Connor McDermott, Dante Scarnecchia will run Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks, Jason King, and Max Rich through the paces in an attempt to find a diamond in the rough.

Though the club likely will keep four tackles on the 53, the Patriots like to keep several offensive linemen stashed on the practice squad.

Croston was a valuable and versatile player at Iowa, seeing time at both right and left tackle. At 6 feet 5 inches and 295 pounds, he has good length and athleticism but could use more bulk and strength.

Rich looks to become the latest Harvard player to seize an NFL job. The 6-7, 315-pound tackle impressed Scarnecchia at the Patriots local workout. He has solid athleticism and strength and a wicked wingspan.

Jelks (6-6, 307) is an interesting case. The Vanderbilt project hasn’t played in two seasons because of a pair of ACL tears. He made the all-SEC freshman team as a right tackle and started every game his sophomore year at left tackle – so he’s another guy that offers flexibility.

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He caught Bill Belichick’s eye at the Commodores’ Pro Day, so that’s reason for optimism. He didn’t participate in any on-field activities during minicamp or the OTA sessions but that could purely be a precautionary move.

King was a solid and reliable guard for some underachieving Purdue teams. He has good size (6-4, 310) and strength and could emerge as a swing interior player in the mold of Ted Karras.

At tight end, New England brought in Jacob Hollister and Sam Cotton. Both will be in the mix for the third string job as this position battle figures to be one of the most hotly contested of the dog days.

Hollister (6-4, 239) is an excellent athlete with exceptional receiving skills. He gets off the line, runs good routes, tracks the ball well, and has strong hands. The Wyoming product could develop into an intermediate terror while also possessing the speed and shiftiness to stretch a defense. Hollister will need to work on his blocking, which will undoubtedly be a point of emphasis this summer.

Cotton (6-4, 250) is an effective big-body blocker but had just 17 catches in four seasons at Nebraska.

Two undrafted receivers will be on hand, including Austin Carr and Cody Hollister (Jacob’s twin).

If not for New England’s stacked receiving corps, Carr would be a no-brainer choice to make the opening day roster. Carr possesses a lot of Patriot-like qualities: He’s smart, tough, hard-working, and versatile.

Rookie wide receiver Austin Carr is trying to make the Patriots at a position stacked with talent.
Rookie wide receiver Austin Carr is trying to make the Patriots at a position stacked with talent.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

Generously listed at 6-1, 195 pounds, Carr is a born slot receiver. He gets off the line and finds soft spots quickly. He’ll pick up this playbook quickly and offers depth not only at receiver but also on special teams. If isn’t grabbed by another team, Carr is at least a practice squad lock.

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Cody Hollister has good size (6-4, 209) and athleticism. He’s no burner but has deceptive quickness and good hands.

Similar to the receiver spot, the Patriots are loaded in the backfield, which will make things difficult for LeShun Daniels Jr. to crack the group.

The Iowa product is a big back (6 feet, 225) with a nice blend of power and speed. He’s thick and muscular with good vision, allowing him to be an effective between-the-tackles banger. Daniels isn’t a track star but shows nice acceleration at the second level.

Jacob Hollister would be a best guess as the undrafted offensive player with the best chance to snag a roster spot. The Patriots love their tight ends and because the position is so physically demanding and injuries are so common, it’s possible they keep four.

Carr, Daniels, and Jelks would appear to be ideal practice squad candidates. They might not be quite ready to be prime time players but with some seasoning in the New England system, they could emerge as valuable contributors down the line.

On Monday, the Patriots placed Jelks on active/non-football injury list with an undisclosed ailment. He can shed the designation whenever he’s ready.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.

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