Predicting Two-Deep New England Patriots Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp
The New England Patriots head into training camp in 2012 well-stocked at nearly every position. They boast a number of backups that would undoubtedly be starters elsewhere. Though the team does have some spots with some question marks—such as defensive end—the overall depth of this team cannot be denied.
Here is a look at the starter and primary backup at every spot as the team heads into training camp.
Quarterback 1: Tom Brady
Quarterback 2: Brian Hoyer
I will not breakdown the decision to rank future Hall of Fame quarterback Brady as the projected starter and waste people's time stating the obvious.
Hoyer's spot as the primary backup to Brady is also not worth discussing at this point. With Brian Hoyer already well-versed in the Patriot offense, his final season under contract with the team should be spent as the main man behind TB12.
Ryan Mallett may have the talent to be better than Hoyer, but the team will not look to lean on him at this point as he continues his development into what some hope could be the future starter in New England.
Running Back 1: Stevan Ridley
Running Back 2: Shane Vereen
Fullback 1: Spencer Larsen
Fullback 2: Tony Fiammetta
Ridley and Vereen head into their second seasons sitting in a comfortable place. The team is going to give each of them every opportunity to prove their worth early on in camp. Danny Woodhead and Joseph Addai could have something to say about this ranking with the two young guns ahead of them on the depth chart, but at this point, the top jobs should be Ridley's and Vereen's to lose.
At fullback—a spot the Patriots have used many players from other positions at in recent years—the Patriots hold three players that are viewed as traditional fullbacks with Larsen, Fiammetta and Eric Kettani.
The reason the depth chart at the position is what it is, is mainly due to what the players have already done in the league. Kettani has yet to play because he has been tied up with active duty in the Navy until recently.
Not that either Larsen or Fiammetta have been formidable players in the league, but they at least have played, which gives them a small leg-up. Larsen's versatility through defense and special teams earns him the top spot.
Keep in mind moving forward that the regular season roster has almost no chance of having two fullbacks on it. Whoever is the backup will actually have his back up against his plane seat on his way home.
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Z Receiver 1: Brandon Lloyd
Z Receiver 2: Donté Stallworth
X Receiver 1: Jabar Gaffney
X Receiver 2: Deion Branch
Slot Receiver 1: Wes Welker
Slot Receiver 1: Julian Edelman
The wide receiver position once looked like it was going to have quite the competition going into training camp, but with the recent releases of Chad Ochocinco and Anthony Gonzalez, the makeup of the position has become more clear.
The above depth chart should come as no surprise to anyone except for those who would argue the placement of Gaffney and Branch. At this point in his career, Gaffney still has more to offer to the offense than Deion Branch.
Branch should still be viewed as a favorite to be on the final roster as the team goes into camp. Stallworth may be listed as Lloyd's primary backup here, but he is by no means a lock to make the roster.
A player to keep an eye on moving forward in camp could be first-year receiver Britt Davis, who has opened some eyes through OTAs and mini-camp as noted by Paul Perillo of Patriots Football Weekly. Davis has played in McDaniels offense in Denver and spent time on the Patriots practice squad last season, so he has the upper hand on the other young receivers.
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Tight End 1: Rob Gronkowski
Tight End 2: Aaron Hernandez
If anyone disagrees with this ranking, I would love to read your comment below.
In all seriousness though, every football fan in the world knows who the Patriots top two tight ends are heading into camp. This situation should be the case for at least two more years.
No one will be taking their spots unless Gronkowski's injury becomes worse.
Vollmer Will Be Key in 2012
Left Tackle 1: Nate Solder
Left Tackle 2: Sebastian Vollmer
Right Tackle 1: Sebastian Vollmer
Right Tackle 2: Marcus Cannon
With the retirement of Matt Light this offseason, Nate Solder's spot at the top of the depth chart at left tackle was all but cemented.
The much bigger situation to watch moving forward is Sebastian Vollmer and the right tackle position. If Vollmer's health continues to be an issue, things could get interesting. Vollmer is not only the top right tackle option, he would also be the left tackle should anything happen to Solder.
If Vollmer is not active at the start of the season, the Patriots will be an injury away from having to possibly move free-agent acquisition Robert Gallery back to tackle, a position he did not excel in at the start of his career in Oakland.
Cannon may be the only option the Patriots would feel comfortable with as a backup at tackle right now. That is, until Dante Scarnecchia inevitably develops a young player like Matt Kopa or Kyle Hix into something, as he has been known to do.
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Left Guard 1: Logan Mankins
Left Guard 2: Dan Connolly
Center 1: Dan Koppen
Center 2: Dan Connolly
Right Guard 1: Brian Waters
Right Guard 2: Robert Gallery
Luckily for the Patriots, all five of the names here are quality players with experience in the league.
Even with the status of Brian Waters and Logan Mankins somewhat up in air with possible retirement and an ACL tear, respectively, the Patriots have great depth on the inside of the line.
Mankins, Koppen, and Waters, if they are all out there, may be the best set of interior lineman the league has to offer.
Dan Connolly and Robert Gallery would be a quality starting guard tandem on most teams, yet they may sit the bench this season in New England. Connolly has the flexibility to play all three spots which made him one of the Patriots top priorities to re-sign this offseason.
The Patriots should feel extremely good about this collection of depth they have put together on the offensive line..
Scott May Be a Surprise in New England
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Left End 1: Trevor Scott
Left End 2: Jake Bequette
Right End 1: Rob Ninkovich
Right End 2: Chandler Jones
A lot of people may be under the impression that I accidentally flipped the depth charts at these two spots, but that is not the case, I assure you.
As the team heads into training camp, Scott and Ninkovich should see a lot of time as the defensive ends in the Patriots 4-3 defense. The two rookies will eventually get onto the field. Come the end of training camp this may be flipped, but Bill Belichick will not take Scott and Ninkovich off the field until Jones and/or Bequette shows Belichick he needs to.
The versatility and amount of looks the Patriot defense is going to give teams this season is going to be staggering. These players, paired with linebacker Dont'a Hightower as a possible sub-rusher, will give teams a lot to think about.
This is certainly not the most proven set of defensive ends the league has seen, but it may end up getting the job done just fine.
Left Tackle 1: Kyle Love
Left Tackle 2: Jonathan Fanene
Right Tackle 1: Vince Wilfork
Right Tackle 2: Gerard Warren
Heading into camp, Kyle Love should still be viewed as the starter alongside Vince Wilfork after his performance last season. However, Fanene is bound to see plenty of playing time as the Patriots obviously view him quite favorably with his $12 million contract.
Fanene may be used strictly as an interior rusher in sub-packages, taking the role formerly filled by Mike Wright.
Gerard Warren may head into camp as the backup to Wilfork, but it would not be a huge surprise if he does not make the team. Undrafted rookie Justin Francis has been seeing a lot of time with the starting line thus far in the offseason, as reported by Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly.
A young upstart like Francis or Marcus Forston may have what it takes to stake a claim on Warren's place on the final roster.
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Strong Outside Linebacker 1: Dont'a Hightower
Strong Outside Linebacker 2: Bobby Carpenter
Middle Linebacker 1: Brandon Spikes
Middle Linebacker 2: Dane Fletcher
Weak Outside Linebacker 1: Jerod Mayo
Weak Outside Linebacker 2: Tracy White
If Hightower can live up to the hype surrounding him, the depth chart at linebacker looks extremely strong among the starters. However, the backups could be better.
Tracy White and Bobby Carpenter are not players most would feel comfortable with if they had to start for an extended period of time—although Carpenter is fitting in well so far as Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly reports.
Dane Fletcher is a solid player Bill Belichick has been able to develop over the past two years, and he will likely continue to see time in sub packages, taking advantage of his skills on passing downs.
One issue that could also derail this position is if Spikes continues to get dinged up a lot. He has the ability to make a large impact when he is out there, something Fletcher would not bring as much if he has to play an every down role.
Rob Ninkovich may also fill out a big role in the linebacking corps if Belichick decides that his abilities are not best suited to play defensive end on a full-time basis.
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Left Cornerback 1: Devin McCourty
Left Cornerback 2: Sterling Moore
Right Cornerback 1: Kyle Arrington
Right Cornerback 2: Ras-I Dowling
Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington may head into training camp as the starters, but neither is a lock to actually start when the Patriots take the field against the Titans in September.
After McCourty's performance last season, he can no longer be put down as a sure thing to start. If he struggles in camp, things could get very interesting for the Patriot captain.
Sterling Moore's play down the stretch, as well as Dowling returning from injury, make the top of the depth chart crowded, which is never a problem considering how bad the pass defense was last year.
Having too many good cornerbacks is never a problem.
Arrington has been the most consistent player for the team the last two years, so out of these four, I would say he probably has the best odds to be a starter all year long.
Seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard and veteran Will Allen could also play themselves into this depth chart with good training camps. A trade may make sense for the Patriots if all corners perform well in camp, as they will not keep all six.
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Free Safety 1: Steve Gregory
Free Safety 2: Tavon Wilson
Strong Safety 1: Patrick Chung
Strong Safety 2: Josh Barrett
The two starters are both quality players, not Pro Bowl caliber, but solid. This pair will certainly fair better than the Sergio Brown-James Ihedigbo type combos that were lined up in the defensive backfield at times last season.
Chung needs to remain healthy and show he can do a little more than make plays in the box if he wants to strike it rich next offseason when he hits unrestricted free agency.
If Tavon Wilson is not a complete bust as many are predicting, the Patriots will actually have a decent depth chart at safety after last season's disaster.
Josh Barrett is a big safety that Belichick coveted so much he wasted a roster spot all through the summer in 2010. Belichick claimed him away from Josh McDaniels' Broncos when he was waived/injured—in a move identical to the one the Patriots just pulled off to acquire Giants' tight end Jake Ballard.
Barrett might have been a good player last year and perhaps kept the revolving door from swinging at safety, but he ended up on injured reserve after playing in just five games in 2011.
He will look to finally make Belichick's claiming of him worth it this year.