New England Patriots: Practice Squad Candidates
The New England Patriots are a team built on depth, but only 53 players will make the final roster. That is where the practice squad comes into play—a less lucrative role where training with the team is the primary responsibility. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it, and the Pats have some excellent candidates.
So, the question is: Which prospects would best serve as practice players for the 2012 season?
Here are eight former late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents who are primed for this unheralded duty.
Brandon Bolden, Running Back, Undrafted in 2012
The 5'11, 215-pound running back ran for 2,604 yards and racked up 33 total touchdowns in four seasons with the Rebels, according to ESPN.com data.
Yet on the Patriots, Bolden joins a group of talented rushers which includes Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Joseph Addai.
With such skilled players ahead of him on the depth chart, Bolden faces a tough challenge making the 53-man roster. That said, he would be an asset if he cleared waivers and was placed on the practice squad.
Jeremy Ebert, Wide Receiver, 2012 Seventh-Round Draft Pick
New England chose Northwestern wide out Jeremy Ebert with the 235th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He may have been a late selection, but the 5'11", 200-pound slot receiver can play.
According to ESPN.com, the 23-year-old caught 75 passes for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns during his senior year with the Wildcats. He can help out on special teams and is capable of returning kicks.
If Ebert holds his own in training camp and the preseason, he would be a great player to groom on the practice squad. That is, if he doesn't get claimed by another team first.
Nate Ebner, Safety, 2012 Sixth-Round Draft Pick
Nate Ebner was a special teams standout at Ohio State, but something about his play made him a sixth-round draft choice by the Patriots.
The former rugby star is tough as nails and perfect for special teams duty in New England. He's raw when it comes to playing defensive back, but he's not afraid to put his body in harm's way.
The 6'0", 205-pound Buckeye is on the back end of the Patriots' unofficial depth chart, which makes him a dark horse to make the active roster. But his ability to play on all four units of special teams will give him a shot in the NFL.
The practice squad would be a venue for Ebner to polish his skills as a safety, while making everyone around him play up to his level of intensity.
Matt Kopa, Offensive Tackle, Undrafted in 2010
Offensive tackle Matt Kopa has been a member of the San Fransisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins, as well as the Patriots. During his time with the Niners and Pats, he's been a practice squad player with no accrued NFL seasons.
Last year with the Patriots, Kopa earned practice player of the week honors four times, per ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss.
The Stanford product isn't flashy, but no offensive lineman is. He gives his best effort in practice and provides New England with solid depth at tackle.
Quality offensive lineman are a practice squad must, and Kopa fits the bill.
Nick McDonald, Offensive Guard, Undrafted in 2010
Last season, the Grand Valley State alum was twice named practice player of the week according to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston. His hard work paid off—McDonald saw action in four regular season games, starting two.
McDonald's two years of NFL experience on the interior of the offensive line bodes well for him. If he misses the 53-man cut, the 24-year-old would be a top practice squad option.
Justin Francis, Defensive End, Undrafted in 2012
Rutgers defensive end Justin Francis went undrafted in 2012 but is a logical fit with New England's practice squad.
According to Jenny Vrentas of the Star-Ledger, the 6'4", 275-pound Scarlet Knight has lined up at defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker. That versatility is precisely what head coach Bill Belichick loves in a player.
Since 2009, the 23-year-old Maryland transfer has registered 11.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble, per ESPN.com. He only became a full-time starter in 2011, but Francis has produced in every role he's been given.
With all the depth New England has on the defensive line, Francis would benefit the Patriots most as a practice squad player in 2012.
Marcus Forston, Defensive Tackle, Undrafted in 2012
Marcus Forston was an elite recruit coming out of high school, but his career at the University of Miami was riddled with injuries and a lack of production.
The 6'3", 300-pound defensive tackle is a stretch to make the 53-man roster. If he can zero in on his talent, perhaps the Patriots will want to store him on the practice squad.
Forston is a strong, big-bodied rookie who can clog the lanes. He would be a decent understudy for Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love in the not-so-distant future—if he stays healthy.
Ross Ventrone, Safety, Undrafted in 2010
The 5'8", 190-pound Villanova safety lived in limbo but still managed to play in eight regular season games with New England—notching two tackles.
Had Ventrone played in one more game, he would no longer be practice squad eligible. But luckily for him, the Patriots found a way to keep him around for another season.
Ross's brother, Ray Ventrone, filled a similar duty with the Pats between 2005 and 2008.
Coach Belichick must be very fond of the Ventrone family; either that or he likes tampering with their job security.