New England Patriots Players in Danger of Losing Starting Role After Week 1

James ErmilioCorrespondent IIISeptember 10, 2013

New England Patriots Players in Danger of Losing Starting Role After Week 1

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    Week 1 of the 2013 New England Patriots season is in the books, as the Pats escaped with a 23-21 road win against divisional foe Buffalo.  

    A divisional road win is always a good feeling, but that doesn't mean New England played flawlessly.  Here are a few Pats players who struggled enough in Week 1 that their long-term starting prospects may be in jeopardy.  

RB Stevan Ridley

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    Let me tell you what drives coach [Bill] Belichick crazy. What drives him crazy is when you are an error repeater. When you make one mistake, and then you go into a week of practice and you try to fix things, and then you go out there the next week and you do the exact same thing. And that’s what happened. 

    That's a quote from former Pats LB and ESPNBoston.com contributor Tedy Bruschi about the Pats' secondary in 2012.  If error repeaters drive Belichick crazy, Stevan Ridley might wind up getting his coach committed if he keeps up his fumbling habits.

    Ridley, who had four fumbles in the 2012 regular season and another in the AFC Championship loss to the Baltimore Ravens, hasn't yet fixed his ball-security issues.  He fumbled twice in the Pats' opening win (though one was ruled down by contact), losing one fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

    Ridley didn't play again after that turnover, and his successor Shane Vereen (14 carries, 101 yards) was impressive in the lead role. 

    Ridley should get a chance to reclaim his job in the short-term with Vereen sidelined with a broken wrist, but ultimately Vereen's blitz pickup skills and pass-catching ability might make him the more attractive option for major touches in the Pats' pass-heavy offense.

    Ridley is a solid feature back who will get more chances going forward, but he'll need to regain the trust of his offense in the near future.

WR Kenbrell Thompkins

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    Let's start by all agreeing that Kenbrell Thompkins will (and should) get more opportunities to adapt to the steep NFL learning curve and should be a lock to start in two-receiver sets in Week 2 against the Jets.

    Still, his debut performance was less than stellar, whether you chalk it up to nerves or a lack of chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady.  Thompkins hauled in just four of 14 targets for 42 yards in Week 1, good for just 3.0 yards per attempt at a 29 percent completion rate. 

    Thompkins appeared to have route-running problems in Week 1, issues that belie his reputation as an excellent route-runner. As Michael Giardi of Comcast Sports Net wrote:

    Thompkins ran numerous routes at the wrong depth, which contributed to timing being off. #PatriotsTalk

    — Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) September 8, 2013

    Another issue is that Thompkins and fellow starter Danny Amendola both largely operate in the middle of the field, so the Patriots may hope to supplant the undrafted free agent with top offensive pick Aaron Dobson once he's ready.  Dobson is more of a sideline workman with the size (6'3") to make catches over the top.

    Still, by my count Thompkins had a phenomenal preseason and one below-average regular-season game.  His talents are obvious, and it's very likely he'll play a major role in the Pats offense this year.  Tom Brady wouldn't target a receiver 14 times if he didn't think he could make a play.

C Ryan Wendell

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    Okay, there's not much that can be done here, other than perhaps move Dan Connolly back to center and start Will Svitek (once healthy) or Marcus Cannon at guard (and it's unclear if that would be an improvement).  

    But while Wendell's job may not be in jeopardy, he certainly didn't play well in Week 1.  

    Wendell got pushed around by the Bills' interior line, allowing Buffalo to throw off Brady's timing with the dreaded inside rush.  He yielded two QB hits and a rush himself, but more importantly losing his battles allowed other inside rushers room to operate.  

    ProFootballFocus agrees (subscription required); they gave Wendell their lowest possible grade in pass blocking (-2.0).  

    In addition to his pass-blocking issues, Wendell also had several dangerously low snaps and was at least partly (if not largely) responsible for Tom Brady's fumble/aborted snap at the goal line.