The New England Patriots' training camp is nearing its end, and while talented youngsters like Chandler Jones have been trying to make a name for themselves, seasoned veterans like Dan Koppen and Deion Branch have been fighting for roster spots.
Needless to say, the practice fields behind Gillette stadium have been a breeding ground for fierce competition over the last month.
With the first wave of roster cuts, from 90 to 75, scheduled for August 27th, some players have made their case as to why they deserve to stick around, while others are likely to be left behind.
Let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers of Patriots training camp thus far.
Chandler Jones is good.
Just ask Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who was manhandled by the rookie in the Patriots' first preseason game last week against the New Orleans Saints.
Bushrod was forced into two holding penalties while trying to hold off the ferocious Jones, while also giving up a handful of pressures.
After the game, Bushrod had nothing but accolades for the young stud (h/t Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston):
"I think [Chandler Jones is] going to be a good player in this league. It was a battle out there," Bushrod said. "I think he has a bright future ahead of him....He definitely looks the part, a good physical specimen."
Coined as a project by most "experts" when drafted No. 21 overall last April, Jones has silenced his naysayers by quickly cementing himself as a starter in New England's defense.
Dan Koppen's best football is almost certainly behind him.
In a great piece on ESPNBoston, Mike Rodak highlights Dan Koppen as one player who needs to impress quickly if he wants to survive roster cuts:
At this point in camp, it appears that the team is more comfortable starting Ryan Wendell or Dan Connolly at center than it is giving Koppen his old job back....The seats in the offensive line's meetings are filling up, meaning that Koppen needs to make a move to keep his locker in Gillette Stadium past Aug. 31.
With Koppen struggling in camp and the younger Connolly and Wendell playing their best football, Koppen looks like a long shot to make the roster.
If the Patriots gave out a "Best Tight End on the Team" award today, it would go to Aaron Hernandez, not Rob Gronkowski.
While both have had impressive camps so far, Hernandez looks primed to take the league by storm in 2012, much like Gronkowski did in 2011.
Let's get one thing straight, though: Hernandez is not just a tight end. We've seen him line up at many positions, including slot receiver, wide receiver, full back and running back.
You can bet your bottom dollar that Josh McDaniels is going to take advantage of Hernandez's versatility by creating mismatches all over the field. It's going to be a pretty sight for Patriots fans and a nightmare for defenses.
After slipping to the fifth round of the NFL draft in 2011 after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Cannon has yet to impress much at camp.
Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston views Cannon as a player who's been struggling since the start of camp, writing:
In one-on-one rush drills on Monday, the 6-foot-5, 340-pound Cannon looked to be having a lot of trouble. Rob Ninkovich's speed has been a tough matchup for him on a daily basis and reserve Tim Bulman also got into him with a power move to score a victory. This has been a consistent theme in camp.
While Cannon is likely to make the 53-man roster, with starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer yet to practice with the team, it wouldn't be shocking if the Patriots opt to bring in a veteran to fill the void at right tackle.
If you've typed "Patriots Training Camp" into a search engine at any point over the last month, than you already know that Brandon Lloyd has been as good as advertised.
Lloyd's acrobatic athleticism and crisp route running have been on full display throughout camp. He's made a number of impressive catches in the deeper half of the field and looks primed to fill the role of the "deep threat" in New England's offense.
Though he only had one nice catch (that was ultimately taken back due to a holding call against Nate Solder) in his preseason debut, it's safe to expect big things from Lloyd in the future.
It's not that Deion Branch has looked bad on the practice field, he just hasn't be on the practice field all that much.
Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly notes Branch's absence, but hints that he could still grab a roster spot, writing:
Wide receiver Deion Branch has been dressed [for] practices this summer, but hasn’t taken part much. He was inactive versus the Saints Thursday night, as well. However, on Sunday, he was very involved in the passing game when the offense and defense clashed in 7-on-7 and team work periods.
If Branch can stay healthy for the remainder of camp, he certainly has a chance, but with Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth both having strong camps, it may be a case of too little, too late for the 33-year-old receiver.