FOXBOROUGH — Patriots training camp is quickly approaching the end. The Patriots have a game Thursday night against Carolina, then next Thursday against the Giants, and that’s it — on to the regular season.
For the 40 or so players on the roster bubble, it’s now-or-never time. But there was no need for Bill Belichick to tell his players Monday that their opportunities to impress the coaches are running short.
“I think everybody’s well aware of that,” Belichick said. “Unless they’re living under a rock somewhere.”
Belichick probably has a good idea at this point whom he wants to keep on his roster. But the tight end position is very much unsettled, there is an interesting conundrum at quarterback, and injuries in the final two preseason games could change some plans.
There’s also the reality that the Patriots usually pick up two or three players from other teams right around roster cuts. And Belichick knows how to stash a few extra players; we have him keeping a total of 57 guys for the 53-man roster.
Let’s project what the Week 1 roster will look like (*denotes practice squad eligible):
OFFENSE (24 players)
■ Quarterback (2): Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham.
Missing the cut: Brian Hoyer.
Analysis: The Patriots easily could keep three, but I’m seeing less of a need for Hoyer. Stidham has played well enough in his first preseason that he can handle the backup duties (and Brady never leaves the field, anyway).
The Patriots should look to trade Hoyer, and even consider releasing him. I know that Hoyer has $1.51 million of guaranteed base salary, but it comes with offsets. If he is released and signs with another team for, say, the veteran minimum of $1 million, the Patriots would be on the hook for only $500,000.
■ Running back (6): Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, FB James Develin.
Missing the cut: Nick Brossette*, FB Jakob Johnson*.
Analysis: Running back is the deepest position, and they’re going to keep as many as they can, especially considering Michel’s injury history and the injury risk of the position in general. Bolden is really just a special teams player, but he can play running back in an emergency.
Brossette ran well against Tennessee but will have a tough time cracking a tough depth chart. Johnson has a European exemption and can be kept as an 11th player on the practice squad.
■ Wide receiver (5): Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Josh Gordon, Jakobi Meyers.
Physically unable to perform: Demaryius Thomas, Cam Meredith.
Missing the cut: Braxton Berrios*, Ryan Davis*, Maurice Harris, Gunner Olszewski*, Damoun Patterson*.
Analysis: Gordon’s addition was bad news for Harris, Berrios, and Olszewski, who were getting a lot of work in training camp. But Meyers has been unstoppable, and he fulfills the Patriots’ unofficial requirement of keeping an undrafted rookie on their initial 53-man roster every year.
■ Tight end (3): Matt LaCosse, Eric Saubert, Lance Kendricks.
Suspended: Ben Watson.
Missing the cut: Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck*, Stephen Anderson.
Analysis: This position is wide open, especially with LaCosse dealing with an ankle injury that could leak into the regular season. Watson will be back in Week 5, and until then, the Patriots will patch it together with two veterans, Saubert and Kendricks. But, frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if either one were cut. This is one position where the Patriots should be busy around roster cutdown.
■ Offensive line (8): RT Marcus Cannon, RG Shaq Mason, C David Andrews, LG Joe Thuney, LT Isaiah Wynn, OT Dan Skipper, C/G Hjalte Froholdt, G/C James Ferentz.
Non-football injury: OT Yodny Cajuste.
Missing the cut: OT Cole Croston*, C Tyler Gauthier*, OT Martez Ivey*, G/C Ted Karras, OT Cedric Lang*, OT Tyree St. Louis*.
Analysis: I went with Kendricks with my final roster spot, but Croston was a close second. The Patriots could use some depth at offensive tackle with Wynn still coming back from his torn Achilles’ tendon. But for now Skipper will serve as the backup to both tackle spots, and Froholdt and Ferentz will back up the interior guys.
DEFENSE (23 players)
■ Defensive line (8): DE Michael Bennett, DT Lawrence Guy, DT Adam Butler, DT Mike Pennel, DE Deatrich Wise, DE John Simon, DE Chase Winovich, DT Byron Cowart.
Missing the cut: DE Derek Rivers, DE Keionta Davis*, DE Trent Harris*, DE Ufomba Kamalu, DT David Parry, DT Danny Shelton, DT Nick Thurman*.
Analysis: Some tough cuts here with Rivers, Davis, and Shelton, each of whom was on the team last year and is in the running for the final roster spots. But Rivers and Davis don’t play special teams, while Shelton’s role as a run stuffer isn’t as important in today’s NFL.
■ Linebacker (5): Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts.
Missing the cut: Shilique Calhoun, Terez Hall*, Calvin Munson*, Christian Sam*.
Analysis: Collins came to camp needing to win a roster spot, and it looks like he has done that. He has drawn nothing but praise from Belichick, and earned a night off with the starters last Saturday in Tennessee.
Roberts, entering his fourth year, should beat out the trio of youngsters fighting for his spot. The Patriots would rather have a veteran player in that final linebacker spot, and Roberts also played 80 special teams snaps last year.
■ Cornerback (6): Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson.
Missing the cut: Keion Crossen*, A.J. Howard*, Ken Webster*.
Analysis: Dawson also got one of my final roster spots, but only because he was a second-round pick a year ago, and I don’t think Belichick is ready to give up on him yet. But cornerback is the Patriots’ deepest defensive position, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see something happen here — whether it’s a surprise release, or perhaps a trade of Jones or Dawson. Crossen was on last year’s team, but his odds don’t look as good.
■ Safety (4): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks.
Missing the cut: Malik Gant*, Obi Melifonwu.
Analysis: Melifonwu is mighty tempting, as a 6-foot-4-inch coverage safety and special teamer. But the Patriots drafted Williams in the second round, and he is the same height and better in coverage. Brooks will be the new Jordan Richards, as a special teamer and occasional dime safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS (6)
K Stephen Gostkowski, P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona, ST Matthew Slater, ST Nate Ebner, ST Brandon King.
Missing the cut: P Ryan Allen. (Editor’s note: Allen was told Monday that he’d be released.)
Analysis: Bailey likely will handle holding and kickoff duties, and Gostkowski will kick field goals and occasional kickoffs.
Ebner, who has just $600,000 in dead cap money, may be a roster casualty in favor of Melifonwu, Croston, or Rivers.