New England Patriots: Last 5 Players to Make the 53-Man Roster

Drew BonifantAnalyst IIAugust 27, 2012

New England Patriots: Last 5 Players to Make the 53-Man Roster

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    There's one preseason game left for the New England Patriots. For much of the roster, that means one shot remains.

    One shot remains for them to impress Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots coaches and show why they should be on the active roster going forward.

    On Wednesday against the New York Giants, players will make one last attempt to pitch their abilities to contribute in any role, whether it be as a special-teamer, kick returner, tackle/guard hybrid, pass-rusher, etc.

    Afterward, the final cuts will be made, with some players sure that they did enough to stick around being summoned to Belichick's office for an unfortunate discussion.

    Some, however, will hear good news at the end of the preseason odyssey. They'll be given the chance to start the regular season with the big club, having made a team that figures to be competing for big things in the AFC.

    Here are five players whose status will be up in the air the rest of the way, but when the dust clears, will emerge from football judgment day unscathed.

Deion Branch, WR

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    Branch was thought to be dead man walking when he showed up at the start of training camp to fight for a roster spot at a position that the Patriots had reloaded at over the offseason.

    But the offensive chemistry that was supposed to be a given with old Josh McDaniels targets Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd coming aboard hasn't materialized on game day. The Patriots offense has looked sluggish, largely due to a leaky offensive line, but the connection between Tom Brady and his new targets hasn't been sharp.

    The struggles have highlighted the importance of having Branch's top skill, which is in perfect rhythm with the man throwing the ball. Branch isn't going to toast too many cornerbacks, but he will be where he's supposed to be and catch the balls he gets his hands on.

    With Stallworth a long shot to make the roster and an injury slowing Gaffney down, expect Branch to hang on to the elusive roster slot.

Brandon Bolden, HB

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    It's looking like there's a real chance that the Patriots will keep five running backs aboard. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are locks; Danny Woodhead is a proven third-down back and Jeff Demps projects as a No. 1 kick returner, as well as the cliched "weapon" in the backfield.

    And then there's Bolden, an undrafted rookie who has done all the little stuff necessary to catch the eye of the details-obsessed Patriots coaches. He's played on special teams (working on three different units against the Buccaneers) while also drawing praise for his work carrying the ball.

    The player who just received a ringing endorsement from his old coach has the staying power undrafted players often don't have. He continues to stick around.

Marquice Cole, CB

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    Similar to Bolden, Cole's special-teams abilities will help him here. Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling and Sterling Moore are higher on the cornerback totem pole, but the race for the fifth spot is wide open, especially with Alfonzo Dennard's absence-ridden preseason.

    A standout effort against the Giants could swing the needle back toward Dennard, but for right now, Cole just offers more than the Nebraska product.

James Ihedigbo, S

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    The players who can help the team in several ways are the ones who often survive the final cut days. That's Ihedigbo—he's made his way in the NFL on the strength of his special-teams work, and he has the added advantage in that Bill Belichick knows what to expect if he has to throw the UMass product on defense in a pinch.

    Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory are poised for starting spots, with Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner roster-bound as well following standout practices and preseason games. Look for Ihedigbo to round out the bunch. Hopefully, he won't be starting beside Chung this time around.

Dan Koppen, C

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    The longtime center and former Pro Bowler hasn't made things easy for himself this summer, but of course, the entire offensive line has done its best to convince Belichick to just skip pass-protection altogether and just line up nine receivers.

    With the Patriots in no position to be picky with their linemen, the level of trust that Belichick and Tom Brady have built in Koppen throughout the years should help the veteran claim one of the final spots.

    The best news for Koppen, however, could be the bad news for a teammate. Nick McDonald, a rival for an interior lineman spot, is hurt. The depth is challenged that much more, and it could pay off for Koppen at the end.