Two preseason games are in the history books. Two more linger on the horizon. The clock is winding down to the 2012 season, and the Patriots are getting ready for war.
The Patriots are in a good spot; they have the luxury of a stacked roster at their disposal. But with only 53 spots available, intelligent choices and painful cuts will need to be made.
Initial Thoughts Before Revealing the Projected Roster
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are locks at tight end. However, getting through the season with both of them in solid condition feels like an uphill battle.
Gronkowski and Hernandez are constantly in danger. They fight for every last scrap of yardage. Gronkowski, especially, flat-out refuses to entertain the notion of submission.
That's why we love our tight ends. Their devotion to winning is unwavering. But still, 16 games and a few playoff battles add up to a grueling season with a ton of violent hits.
For that reason, I intended to cushion the roster with Vinsanthe Shiancoe or Daniel Fells. Always smart to be prepared.
However, adding one of these additional tight ends would've required cutting a player from an overly loaded unit that could conceivably be trimmed. The only unit of that nature is at running back.
But I can't splice the running back unit. Why? Because I'm too excited about them. These running backs are one of the biggest reasons to be psyched about the new season.
I kept five running backs—which is a lot. Had to. There's a hero in this unit. I don't know who the hero will be, but someone will pull it off. Jeff Demps? Shane Vereen? Stevan Ridley? All potential heroes.
Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead are the two biggest question marks here. Bolden had a sour outing on Monday night against the Eagles, but I'm inclined to chalk it up to inexperience. This kid's skills are raw and severe. I'm not ready to give up on him.
Danny Woodhead's situation is more complicated.
Woodhead's had more than enough time to establish himself as an important player, but the extent to which he's succeeded is debatable. His contributions aren't always tangible. More often than not, I feel like his contributions are more of a theory.
There's something invisible about what he brings to the table. I know he's valuable to the team, but I can't put my finger on why. He really hasn't left a lasting impression anywhere.
Woodhead's a solid kick returner, but I prefer Julian Edelman's services. Woodhead's a solid receiver, but I rarely expect valuable production from him, even by the modest standards he's asked to meet. He's a solid running back, but he clearly hasn't won ownership of the position, despite the fact that he was next in line behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
I'm starting to wonder if we've seen the best he has to offer.
However, having said that, I still couldn't bring myself to envision the team without him. Again, there's that invisible element working in his favor. Call me sentimental, but I love the guy.
So at the end of the day, I kept all five running backs. Unfortunately, that leaves us short-changed at tight end. Such is the nature of placing your chips and building a team.
Enough talk! Here's the projected 53-man roster:
Wide Receivers (6): Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Jabar Gaffney and Matthew Slater.
Tight Ends (2): Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Safeties (5): James Ihedigbo, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung.
Cornerbacks (5): Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty and Marquice Cole.
Running Backs (5): Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Jeff Demps and Brandon Bolden.
Defensive Ends (5): Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Francis.
Linebackers (6): Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Niko Koutouvides, Bobby Carpenter, Brandon Spikes and Jeff Tarpinian.
Defensive Tackles (4): Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Vince Wilfork and Ron Brace.
Offensive Linemen (9): Ryan Wendell, Logan Mankins, Nick McDonald, Dan Connolly, Donald Thomas, Dan Koppen, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon.
Special Teams (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko and Danny Aiken.
Quarterbacks (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
The Giants won last year because they were incredibly balanced on both sides of the ball. They had a phenomenal pass-rush attack that could slow down Tom Brady's high-powered offense, coupled with a third-option receiver who was capable of making the most amazing catch of the year.
From top to bottom, they had the ingredients to win.
The Patriots swallowed this dish the hard way, but they certainly took notes and spent the offseason duplicating the recipe.
Bill Belichick strengthened an already-potent offense with Brandon Lloyd and boosted the pass rush with Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower.
These are the chess moves of a team that learned their lesson.
I'm still concerned about the offensive line, but we've discussed that issue to death. All we can do now is hope they evolve and figure out a way to protect their king.
I'm still not crazy about our secondary. More often than not, our defensive backs are reacting instead of anticipating. They don't find the ball; they find the guy who caught the ball.
We don't have any psychics back there. I want a psychic. I want a guy who has a nose for where the ball's headed and gets there ahead of schedule.
Sterling Moore could be that guy. He's displayed flashes of psychic ability, but he's also displayed the total opposite. It's not uncommon to see Moore getting beat down the sideline or arriving late to a party.
Also, I'm not wild about spending the entire season worrying about the health of Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling. The secondary isn't great, but they could at least be healthy and give us that peace of mind. But with Chung and Dowling constantly teetering on the edge, that peace of mind isn't there.
If trouble arises, someone on this secondary will need to step up and be a hero. Who will it be? Sterling Moore? Nate Ebner? Steve Gregory? Only time will tell.
Aside from the secondary and the offensive line, I'm happy with this roster. Adjustments could be made, depending upon the next two preseason games. Also, Brian Waters could still resurface, so keep your eyes open for that.
Also, as a side note, I love the fact that Deion Branch rose to the challenge on Monday night. He didn't ask for a roster spot; he demanded one. And a roster spot he shall have.
Just goes to show you: Champions never quit.