Full Training Camp Roster Breakdown for Patriots

Mike DussaultSenior Analyst IJuly 18, 2013

Full Training Camp Roster Breakdown for Patriots

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    It will be one of the most fascinating training camps in a decade for the New England Patriots this summer.

    On offense, the team is in near-complete turnover at the wide receiver position, with only Julian Edelman returning from last year's squad. Rob Gronkowski is likely to start on the PUP list, and with the release of Aaron Hernandez, the Pats will have a completely new look at tight end.

    Tom Brady has a chance to make another set of weapons into stars.

    On defense, the Pats return all their starters outside of Kyle Love, and that continuity should serve them well. New additions Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson should contribute immediately.

    The competition for starting positions, especially at wide receiver and safety, should be hotly contested.

    Here's a look at all 90 players on the roster and their prospects for making the cut in late August.

Quarterbacks

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    Tom Brady (No. 12)

    Brady enters his 14th season with the Patriots and has shown no sign of slowing down. Fresh off a new contract extension, Brady has five more seasons in New England to get his fourth Super Bowl ring, and he'll have to do it with a new set of receivers.

    The Patriots have surrounded him with some promising talent, but it will be up to him to elevate them to the level we're used to. This could be one of the most challenging years of Brady's career, and one where he could  cement his place as the greatest of all time.

     

    Ryan Mallett (No. 15)

    Mallet was at the center of trade rumors this offseason, but he remains with the team for his third year. Mallett got a pass in his lockout-shortened rookie season but only showed marginal improvement in the 2012 preseason. He did enough to beat out Brian Hoyer, but if Mallett wants a shot to start in New England or somewhere else, he'll have to show a lot this preseason.

     

    Tim Tebow (No. 5)

    Despite the fanfare of his arrival, Tim Tebow is just the third-string quarterback for the Patriots and will have to prove his ability at that position before doing anything else. Yes, Tebow is tough with the ball in his hands, but that doesn't mean he can automatically be made into a tight end or H-back. For him, being a quarterback is most important. If he can get that down, things could get interesting with him.

Running Backs

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    Stevan Ridley (No. 22)

    Ridley had a breakout 2012 campaign with 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. He benefited from the Pats' no-huddle attack, but he will have more of a challenge in 2013 as the Pats offense slows down to break in some new receivers. He'll need to improve on his four fumbles from 2012, with the most memorable being the knockout blow in the AFC Championship Game by Bernard Pollard that effectively ended the game.

     

    Shane Vereen (No. 34)

    Vereen exploded onto the scene in the AFC Divisional Game against the Houston Texans, putting up 124 total yards and three touchdowns. Now Vereen is the favorite to replace Danny Woodhead as the Pats' primary passing down back. The biggest question is: Can he improve his pass protection? Health has been a problem as well in his first two years, but no player could be more primed for a breakout year.

     

    Brandon Bolden (No. 38)

    The undrafted Bolden showed great promise in training camp and early last season before getting hurt and then suspended for PEDs. He saw just 13 more carries after returning in Week 14, after rushing for 191 yards in back-to-back wins against the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos earlier in the season.

    Can Bolden build on what he did? Or will he continue the downward trend that began with an injury in Seattle? No player is more boom-or-bust this season.

     

    Leon Washington (No. 33)

    Washington is known primarily as a top kick and punt returner, but his presence provides some insurance in the backfield if Vereen struggles or gets hurt. Washington should be able to contribute in a number of different ways.

     

    LeGarrette Blount (No. 29)

    Blount showed promise in 2010, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in limited action. He fell into Greg Schiano's doghouse in 2012, rushing for just 151 yards on 41 carries. Despite his size, Blount is not a short-yardage back, though his direct competition will be against Bolden. With the Pats' turnover at receiver, Blount just might sneak onto the roster, but whether or not he can regain his 2010 form remains to be seen.

     

    George Winn (No. 35)

    Winn went undrafted but was called one of the most explosive players in the draft. Winn is under the radar, but he will get a fair shot in camp and could make noise. He was consistent and ran with authority in college—Bill Belichick loves those traits in his backs.

     

    James Develin (No. 46)

    Develin played one game for the Pats in 2012, but unless he can contribute in ways outside of a pure fullback role, he's a long shot to make the roster.

     

    Ben Bartholomew (No. 39)

    The rookie out of Tennessee was one of the hardest workers on the Vols and showed some versatility by playing tight end as well as fullback. He'll need to maximize that to have a shot at making the practice squad.

Receivers

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    Danny Amendola (No. 80)

    The great white hope of the Patriots' new receiving corps is Danny Amendola, an explosive and talented player who could excel playing with Brady if he can stay healthy. Amendola is undoubtedly the primary starting place for the turnover at receiver, and while expectations for him to replace Wes Welker are high, he has more physical talent than Welker. Amendola and Brady were showing signs of improvement in minicamp and must continue to build on it.

     

    Michael Jenkins (No. 10)

    Jenkins isn't a name to wow anyone, but his size and experience could give him an advantage in the wide receiver competition. He saw starting snaps in minicamp and demonstrated strong hands and a consistent ability to catch the ball away from his body. Most think he's a placeholder until Aaron Dobson gets up to speed, but Jenkins will have every chance to win a job.

     

    Julian Edelman (No. 11)

    Edelman is now without a walking boot and looks to be fully recovered from the broken foot that ended his 2012 season. He's the only true receiver on the roster who has caught a pass from Tom Brady in a game, and that gives him an advantage. However, he's similar to Amendola, which could limit his playing time. He'll have to stay healthy, but he has a lot to prove being on a one-year deal.

     

    Aaron Dobson (No. 17)

    The Patriots had no choice but to take receivers early and often in the draft, and Aaron Dobson was the one they took highest. Dobson's size and intelligence project him to fit on the outside, but he's missed time already in OTAs and minicamp with an undisclosed injury. Dobson must get back on the field, start earning Brady's trust and digest the playbook. Once he does that, he could be headed for a starting spot and a significant role in the offense.

     

    Josh Boyce (No. 82)

    Boyce should be recovered from a broken toe, and the Patriots have a big need for a player with his kind of speed. Boyce seems to project to multiple receiver spots, and that versatility could be a big advantage; however, like Dobson, he just needs to get on the field and start stacking success.

     

    Matthew Slater (No. 18)

    Slater has seen time at receiver occasionally in the past, catching one pass for 46 yards in 2012. He makes his living on special teams but has great speed and will be occasionally used to stretch the defense. With all the young and fast receivers in the mix, Slater might have seen his last receiver snaps.

     

    Donald Jones (No. 19)

    Donald Jones showed good year-to-year improvement while playing in Buffalo with Ryan Fitzpatrick. He didn't do much in minicamp to catch eyes, but his veteran experience gives him an edge on the rookie receivers. He could be a late riser in training camp, especially if the rookies can't get or stay healthy.

     

    Kenbrell Thompkins (No. 85)

    Thompkins was an unheralded and undrafted rookie yet saw time with the top offense in minicamp due to all the injuries. He looked like he belonged, but that was in shorts and T-shirts. Can he get off an NFL jam when the pads come on? He'll have a lot to prove.

     

    Kamar Aiken (No. 16)

    Aiken spent some time with the Patriots in 2012, dressing for the game in Jacksonville but not recording a catch. His experience in the system could help him, but there are a lot more talented rookies and veterans around now. Staying healthy and running the right routes will be key for him.

     

    Mark Harrison (No. 13)

    Harrison is an incredible athlete who went undrafted. He was signed by the Chicago Bears but then released, and the Patriots pounced on him. If there's a dark horse in the receiver competition, it's Harrison. His measurables are elite, and if he can grasp the Patriots system, he could find himself becoming a major contributor to the 2013 Pats.

     

    Lavelle Hawkins (No. 83)

    Hawkins caught 47 passes in 2011 with the Titans but was phased out in 2012. He saw some action in minicamp due to injuries and made the most of them. He's another veteran who will have to stand out early and often in camp to carve out a role for himself.

Tight Ends

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    Rob Gronkowski (No. 87)

    After four offseason surgeries to his arm and back, Gronk is likely to start training camp on the PUP list and possibly stay on it until Week 6. If the back surgery is more about maintenance than a recurring problem, the Pats should have Gronk back for the stretch run. Whenever he does return, it will be a huge boost. How well he plays will depend on how healthy he is and can remain.

     

    Jake Ballard (No. 88)

    With the release of Aaron Hernandez and Gronk's injuries, the acquisition of Jake Ballard last season now looks genius. Ballard is not Gronkowski, but he provides the kind of blocking the Pats lacked without Gronk. For that alone, Ballard should be an excellent Danial Graham-type player, who can chip in with some third-down-conversion catches.

     

    Michael Hoomanawanui (No. 47)

    Hoomanawanui was Gronkowski's primary backup in 2012 and saw some significant snaps down the stretch, catching five passes. He could be deemed expendable with the arrival of Ballard, but he's still just 24 years old, and could make a jump after a full year in the Patriots system.

     

    Daniel Fells (No. 86)

    With Aaron Hernandez gone, his top backup Fells could suddenly be thrust into a more significant role in 2013. He caught just four passes in 2012, but like Hoomanawanui, he could make strides in his second year in the system.

     

    Zach Sudfeld (No. 44)

    Sudfeld was a standout in OTAs and minicamp, but he's an undrafted rookie who had one healthy season in college. He still has a lot to prove, especially once the pads come on, but it's hard not to be intrigued by his Gronk-like size and movement skills.

     

    Brandon Ford (No. 49)

    Undrafted rookie Ford had 40 catches for eight touchdowns with Clemson last season and has the kind of size that signals he could be another possible Hernandez-esque tight end replacement.

Offensive Tackles

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    Nate Solder (No. 77)

    The 2011 first-round pick enters his third year, the second as a full-time starter. Solder was quietly efficient in 2012, replacing left tackle Matt Light without much drop-off at all, and he should only be better with that experience under his belt. Solder has elite size and movement skills and could be headed toward being one of the top offensive linemen in the game.

     

    Sebastian Vollmer (No. 76)

    The Pats brought back Vollmer on a four-year deal worth $27 million. It was a smart move, as he's one of the best right tackles in the NFL. Despite being dogged by injuries in 2012, Vollmer only missed one game and was back on track to being an elite right tackle before the injuries caught up with him in the second half of the season. Now, if fully healthy, he should be primed to return to the elite level.

     

    Will Svitek (No. 74)

    The Patriots signed swing tackle Svitek after he missed the 2012 season with an arm injury after starting 10 games for the Falcons in 2011. If he's able to back up both tackle spots, it should allow Marcus Cannon some flexibility to move to guard. 

     

    Mark Zusevics (No. 66)

    Zusevics was on and off the Patriots roster during his rookie year in 2012. He went undrafted after tearing his pectoral muscle at the scouting combine and could be an intriguing developmental prospect.

     

    Elvis Fisher (No. 69)

    Fisher was one of only two undrafted rookies to receive a guaranteed salary this season. Granted it's only $7,500, but it shows the Patriots see some promise in him. His best bet will be to win a practice squad spot.

     

    Kevin Haslam (No. 72)

    Haslam is another Rutgers product who started three games for the Chargers at left tackle in 2012. He will compete for the top backup spot.

     

    R.J. Mattes (No. 74)

    Mattes was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after being a four-year starter at NC State. He'll push Fisher for a spot on the practice squad.

Offensive Guards

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    Logan Mankins (No. 70)

    Now a full year-plus removed from ACL surgery, Logan Mankins should be back to his mauling ways. He was decent in 2012 but not the same dominating player he had been up until his injury-plagued 2011 campaign. He's one of the meanest and best guards in the NFL and should prove it once again in 2013.

     

    Dan Connolly (No. 63)

    Connolly had offseason shoulder surgery and sat out minicamp and OTAs. If there was one member of 2012's starting line who could be targeted for an upgrade, it would be Connolly. He played center in 2011 and seems a better fit as the utility interior lineman than the starting right guard. He'll face good competition this preseason.

     

    Marcus Cannon (No. 61)

    Marcus Cannon was the swing tackle in 2012 but has always seemed a better fit at guard and was finally working there in minicamp. He has unique size and movement skills, which lead many to wonder if he could supplant Connolly as the starter. He will be one to watch in camp.

     

    Chris MacDonald (No. 64)

    MacDonald, brother of fellow Patriot Nick, was an undrafted free agent who started 39 games at right guard for Michigan State and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. The Pats need competition at guard, and MacDonald should provide it.

     

    Josh Kline (No. 67)

    Undrafted rookie Kline played all five line positions at Kent State, and we know what Belichick thinks of versatility. It could make him a prime candidate for the practice squad.

Centers

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    Ryan Wendell (No. 62)

    Wendell is coming off his first season starting at center for the Pats, and no one in the NFL played more snaps. Wendell was a dominant run blocker who will look to bring his pass protection up to the same level. If he's able to do that, he could be the long-term answer at center the Pats need.

     

    Nick MacDonald (No. 65)

    MacDonald appeared in 12 games in 2012 and has the versatility to play anywhere along the inside of the line. His positional battles will be as much with the other guards as they will be with the centers. He flashed some promise in the 2012 preseason and could make a push for a more significant role in 2013.

     

    Matt Stankiewitch (No. 60)

    Undrafted rookie Stankiewitch comes out of Penn State, where he ran the Patriots offense under Bill O'Brien. That kind of experience with the plays, terminology and cadence could be a big boost to the rookie, who will try to make a push for the practice squad.

Defensive Ends

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    Chandler Jones (No. 95)

    Jones' immediate ascension into a force at defensive end was a pleasant surprise in 2012. From his first preseason game, he stood out for his strength and athleticism, even forcing a sack fumble recovered for a touchdown in the season opener. An ankle injury caused him to miss two games, and he did not record another sack after he returned. Jones has added weight this offseason and is expected to build on last year's early season performances. If he does that, he might become the biggest force on the Patriots defense.

     

    Rob Ninkovich (No. 50)

    Ninkovich enters the last year of his third contract with the Patriots, something of a rarity. Though inconsistent at times, no one is more clutch that Ninkovich. Is Ninkovich still ascending and deserving of a fourth contract from the Pats? Or have we seen his best?

    Plenty of talent is behind him, and he'll have much to prove this year yet again. But Belichick loves his strength, toughness and versatility, and he should play a big role on the defense for the third straight season.

     

    Justin Francis (No. 94)

    The undrafted Francis came out of nowhere in 2012, impressing with his quickness from the opening days of camp. By the end of the season, he had risen to the third defensive end role, seeing time both there and as an interior rusher, recording three sacks. With fierce competition at defensive end, Francis will need to show he's continued to grow as a player to secure a spot on the team again.

     

    Jake Bequette (No. 92)

    Bequette didn't do much after being selected in the third round in 2012, but he always had the size and explosiveness to make a great edge-rusher. No veteran pass-rushers have been brought in, and Bequette showed up throughout OTAs and minicamp. This could mean he's a prime contender for the designated pass-rusher role, but he'll have to show development.

     

    Jermaine Cunningham (No. 96)

    Cunningham spent most of 2012 as a designated interior pass-rusher, but he was suspended for PEDs in Week 13 and didn't see much action until the AFC Championship Game, where he played 32 snaps but was invisible. His true fit is probably at left defensive end, and given that the competition will be tighter for the interior rusher spot, he might have to prove he can play in the base defense to earn a spot on the team. It's a make-or-break year for him, and he'll likely have to play at another level to earn another contract with the Pats.

     

    Michael Buchanan (No. 99)

    Many think Michael Buchanan was a steal for the Pats in the seventh round of the draft this year. He had a down senior season after looking like a possible first-round pick in his junior year. He's the dark horse in the defensive end competition and could end up starting before long. If not, he could probably make it to the practice squad.

     

    Marcus Benard (No. 58)

    Benard had 7.5 sacks in 2010 but missed most of 2011 and 2012 due to injury. He has shown he can play at an NFL level at both defensive end and linebacker. If he's fully healthy, he could make some noise as a pass-rusher.

     

    Jason Vega (No. 68)

    Vega comes to the Patriots from the CFL, where he recorded 12 sacks in two seasons. He's a bit of an unknown, but his pass-rush presence is undeniable. The designated pass-rusher position could be his most direct route to a roster spot.

Defensive Tackles

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    Vince Wilfork (No. 75)

    Vince Wilfork remains the key cog on the Patriots defense and the queen of Bill Belichick's defensive chess board, and at 31 years old, he remains in his prime. The Patriots could ill afford anything happen to him, who finally saw a decrease in his snap totals in 2012. The Pats cannot be over-reliant on him in 2013 or risk an injury to him. With a better supporting cast around him, Wilfork should have another great year.

     

    Tommy Kelly (No. 93)

    After the departures of Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick, Tommy Kelly is the key addition to New England's front seven. Like Wilfork, he can play anywhere on the line and should also bring a presence in the passing game from the interior. He should make a huge impact for the Patriots and give Wilfork a suitable partner on the inside of the line.

     

    Armond Armstead (No. 97)

    Essentially a rookie after playing a year in the CFL, Armond Armstead is projected to be an interior rusher with some ability to play defensive end and tackle as well. He'll still have a lot to prove, but Armstead looks like just what the Patriots pass defense needs. 

     

    Marcus Forston (No. 98)

    Forston saw some time on the active roster early in 2012 but was cut and re-signed to the practice squad later in the year. He was a promising prospect out of Miami and could make a push as an interior rusher. If one player most benefited from the releases of Love and Deaderick, it's Forston, but a veteran tackle could still be signed to add more depth.

     

    Cory Grissom (No. 67)

    Grissom was ranked the top undrafted defensive tackle by Gil Brandt, and the Patriots pounced on him in the days after the draft. At 6'1" and 306 pounds, he is best suited as a nose tackle. His versatility could determine his roster potential, because it's unclear how much a hold-ground type is needed in a passing league.

     

    Joe Vellano

    An undrafted rookie out of Maryland, Vellano played multiple spots along the defensive line. He chose to come to New England because he "saw a blue-collar organization with a white-knuckle philosophy boasting an impeccable track record of turning the undersized and the under-appreciated into household NFL names, if not stars." The Pats need depth and youth along the defensive line, and the former-Captain Vellano could stick, at least on the practice squad.

Outside Linebackers

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    Jerod Mayo (No. 51)

    Mayo had the best year of his career in 2012, although his pass coverage remained the weak spot in his game. Blessed with extraordinary speed, he still manages to be inches off in coverage, and the opposition has attacked this weak point. He's one of the leaders and tone setters for the Patriots defense, but he needs to continue to improve entering his sixth year in the league.

     

    Dont'a Hightower (No. 54)

    Hightower started to come on at the end of 2012 and was one of the only bright spots against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

    He could become a star in 2013. He's stout and a sure tackler and seems as dedicated to football as Mayo is. The true question is how much his pass defense can improve. He split snaps in nickel with Brandon Spikes for much of the year. In 2013, he might take over the role outright.

     

    Jamie Collins (No. 91)

    Collins was the Patriots' top draft pick in 2013 and will be one of the most intriguing players to watch in training camp. No one is sure exactly how the Pats plan on using him, though Belichick said he'd start off as a linebacker. Collins played numerous positions in college from safety to defensive end, and he has unparalleled athleticism.

    Could he be a coverage linebacker? Could he be a pass-rusher? No one knows for sure, nor will they until Collins takes the field in a full-pads practice.

     

    Niko Koutouvides (No. 90)

    Koutouvides has been a reliable special teamer and occasional defensive fill-in for the last two seasons. He seems to have the most upside of the special teams linebackers but will not be handed a roster spot for it.

     

    Jeff Tarpinian (No. 53)

    Tarpinian has played 10 games for the Pats over the last two seasons, mostly on special teams. As is always the case with players like him, there is no margin for poor performance or injury. He'll need to win a spot on the team from scratch once again.

     

    A.J. Edds 

    A.J. Edds returns to the Patriots after a brief stint with the team in 2012. He rounds out the bottom of the roster and will compete for a special teams spot.

Inside Linebackers

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    Brandon Spikes (No. 55)

    Brandon Spikes enters a contract year and avoided OTAs in favor of training on his own in Florida. He is a devastating run-stopper and intimidating presence, but his shortcomings in the passing game are evident. He was targeted frequently, though he did manage six passes defended in 2012.

    Spikes is right on the cusp and could go either way. He has the instincts; if he can just elevate that part of his game, he could prove to be a three-down linebacker. If he does that, he just might see another contract from New England.

     

    Dane Fletcher (No. 52)

    Fletcher returns after tearing his ACL in the first preseason game of 2012. He was a sure tackler and had excellent quickness prior to the injury, and his presence in the passing game was missed last season. If he can build on the potential he flashed in 2011, he might just lock up a role as a nickel linebacker next to Mayo.

     

    Mike Rivera (No. 59)

    Rivera appeared in 11 games for the Pats in 2012, including a surprise start in place of Brandon Spikes against the 49ers. He'll face increased competition this season and will have to re-earn a spot through special teams.

     

    Steve Beauharnais (No. 45)

    Beauharnais was a seventh-round pick out of Rutgers, and though a bit undersized for a Patriots inside linebacker, his quickness and agility are off the charts. He'll have to show his worth on special teams, but he has unique traits that could help him compete for a role as a coverage linebacker.

Cornerbacks

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    Aqib Talib (No. 31)

    Talib returns to the Pats on a one-year "prove-it" deal. He had injury issues last season, but when healthy, he was as advertised and made an impact. The trickle-down effect of his presence improved the entire defense. Now he has a chance to prove he can stay healthy and remain a good citizen to get a lucrative contract. He could have a big year, and if he does, the Pats defense should be in the top 10.

     

    Kyle Arrington (No. 25)

    Arrington re-upped with the Pats on a four-year deal and brings the kind of versatility and experience the secondary needed. His best fit is inside at the slot, but he played well filling in on the outside in the AFC Championship Game. He'll have a role one way or another this season but could  excel if allowed to work in the slot.

     

    Alfonzo Dennard (No. 37)

    Dennard avoided in-season jail time for a pre-draft altercation with police in Nebraska and is back with the Pats for his sophomore campaign. However, after another run-in with police for a suspected DUI, his future with the team could be in doubt. He was their most consistent corner in the second half of 2012, but he will not be immediately handed a starting spot this year. He'll have to earn it. Still, if he can build on an impressive freshman season, he could lock up a long-term starting spot at right cornerback.

     

    Ras-I Dowling (No. 21)

    For the second straight season, Dowling ended the year on injured reserve, but now he is healthy and impressed at OTAs and minicamp. Dowling has similar size to Talib and could be a useful tool against teams with big receivers. If he gets hurt again, the Pats will likely cut the cord with him, but he still has potential. He's the biggest wild card in the secondary, and one who could elevate the entire defense if he stays healthy and plays up to his draft status.

     

    Logan Ryan (No. 26)

    Rookie Logan Ryan seems to best fit inside the slot, but with his versatility, he could secure a significant role in 2013. It's unclear now how he'll fit in exactly, but once injuries and competition begin to play out, he could find himself playing early and often. His instincts and toughness were praised coming out of Rutgers and should make up for any lack of straight-line speed that might have dropped his draft status.

     

    Marquice Cole (No. 23)

    Cole played 232 snaps on defense in 2012, all coming in the slot. Thirty-three of them came in the AFC Championship Game, where he was targeted five times for five completions and a touchdown to Anquan Bolden. He is a solid special teams player (eight tackles), but the presence of Logan Ryan puts his roster spot in jeopardy. Being forced to cover Bolden was a mismatch, and one the Pats hope to avoid this season.

     

    Brandon Jones (No. 36)

    Yet another Rutgers alum, Jones was signed as a rookie free agent after having 31 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass deflections in 2012. He was the Big East Special Teams player of the week in September for a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Those special teams skills could win him a roster spot.

     

    Stephon Morris (No. 35)

    Penn State alum Morris has always been a Patriots fan, and it didn't take much convincing from Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien for him to sign with the Patriots as a rookie free agent. At 5'8" and 196 pounds, he's a little undersized but should compete in the slot and on special teams.

Safeties

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    Devin McCourty (No. 32)

    Entering his fourth season, Devin McCourty is now universally viewed as a safety, and he's the only sure thing on the back end of the defense. He's at his best with free safety responsibilities and should be ideally paired with a strong-safety type. With a full offseason to focus on safety, he could take a big step forward in 2013. However, if injuries hit the cornerbacks, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him shift back to corner. Regardless of position, McCourty is a leader of the defense and will rarely come off the field.

     

    Adrian Wilson (No. 24)

    One of the prized offseason signings, Wilson was already a tone-setter in OTAs and minicamp. Though he came off the field for the Cardinals on passing downs, expect Wilson to make a push to be an every-down safety for the Pats and make a big impact in the flat against tight ends and slot receivers. The Pats have struggled with those two areas in recent years. A combination of Wilson and McCourty could be the best safety pairing that the Pats have had in a long time. 

     

    Steve Gregory (No. 28)

    Gregory was inconsistent in 2012, and with a significant salary cap hit, he could be on the chopping block if he doesn't show improvement in training camp. McCourty's move to safety full time likely bumps Gregory down the depth chart to begin with. Someone might have to get injured for him to keep his roster spot.

     

    Tavon Wilson (No. 27)

    Wilson was taken in the second round of 2012 and was thrown immediately into the fire, primarily as the nickel linebacker. He had a stint as an every-down safety for four games and struggled. Returning to the Money position toward the end of the season put him back doing what he does best, covering the slot and delivering some hard hits.

    The Patriots will let Adrian Wilson groom Tavon to potentially take over the strong safety spot down the road. He has the talent to do so, he just has to put it all together and make a jump in his sophomore season.

     

    Duron Harmon (No. 30)

    He is the surprising pick of 2013. No one knows what Duron Harmon's ceiling is in his rookie season, but he's a similar player to Tavon Wilson and could get a shot at the Money spot. But there's no question he's third in the strong safety depth chart and will need to prove his worth on special teams. He will be one of the more fascinating players to watch in camp.

     

    Nate Ebner (No. 43)

    A 2012 sixth-round pick and former rugby standout, Ebner ended up second on the Patriots in special teams tackles. He also played 36 snaps on defense at the start of the year. His special teams prowess saves him from having to prove he has potential for the defense. He should be a roster lock for that reason.

     

    Kanorris Davis (No. 44)

    Davis is a rookie free agent out of Troy who primarily played outside linebacker, but at 5'10" and 207 pounds, he'll be a safety in the NFL. He has good tackling and plays hard. There's a lot of competition at safety, so he'll have to stay healthy to have a shot at the practice squad.

Specialists

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    Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski (No. 3)

    Gostkowski enters his eighth season with the Patriots, coming off an 82.9 percent field-goal percentage, the third worst of his career behind his rookie season and his injury-shortened 2010. Still, that's nitpicking. Outside of his miss against the Cardinals in Week 2 of 2012 that would have won the game, he has been reliable. He replaced a legend in Adam Vinatieri without much drop-off, though he still has yet to face a full pressure playoff field goal. 

     

    Punter: Zoltan Mesko (No. 14)

    Mesko enters the final year of his rookie deal, coming off a career-worst 43.1 yards per punt average. His situational punting has been inconsistent, but overall he has been generally solid. However, he will face competition this preseason.

     

    Punter: Ryan Allen (No. 6)

    Allen won the Ray Guy award for the best punter in college over the last two seasons, so he could present a more affordable alternative to Mesko. The Patriots are never shy about competition, and Allen will be given every opportunity to win the job. Every preseason punt will count for both Allen and Mesko. The practice squad could be a possibility as well as insurance against Mesko's contract negotiations.

     

    Long Snapper: Danny Aiken (No. 48)

    Aiken has quietly held down the Pats' long snapper duties for two seasons after coming aboard off waivers from the Bills before the first game of 2011. Lonnie Paxton held the long snapper job for nine seasons in New England; if Aiken can maintain his consistency, he could do the same.

     

    Long Snapper: Mike Zupancic (No. 53)

    An undrafted rookie free agent out of Eastern Michigan, Zupancic will get a fair shot to compete with Aiken.