Making the Call on the New England Patriots' Hardest Remaining Cuts
Positions clogged with talent and promise like wide receiver will be measured against positions—tight end comes to mind—that are nearly bare. The two big dogs in the fight—offense and defense—will be pitched against each other. However, the chihuahua in the corner—special teams—might have the biggest bark of all in the end.
Here are five cuts that the Patriots will have a tough time making this year.
Ryan Wendell (C)
Sometimes one must draw a distinct line between the past and the future. Cutting Ryan Wendell, long a veteran presence in front of Tom Brady, would be quite a distinct move by Belichick.
However, if the New England Patriots are going to try and hang on to the building blocks of the future—Josh Kline, Jon Halapio, Cameron Fleming and Bryan Stork—they may have to tear down the present structure. Kline and the rookies might not play much in 2014, but there may be enough depth in place to mitigate Wendell's departure.
Dan Connolly can play center, and Marcus Cannon has looked good at right guard. Cannon has been impressive enough that it would be a disservice to let him sit as a swing tackle. That would leave a left-to-right starting line of Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Connolly, Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer.
Brady might loathe to see Wendell go, but it is the best thing for the future of the franchise.
Brandon Bolden (RB)
Similar to Ryan Wendell's situation, Brandon Bolden plays a position that has some exciting, youthful prospects. He has to show that his contributions as a blocker and on special teams—not as a returner, however—are worth keeping over the upside of a Roy Finch or Jonas Gray.
Bolden had a nice 18-yard scamper against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he couldn't match the explosiveness of Finch or the body of work of Gray, who totaled 98 yards on just 12 carries.
Even if Bolden can beat out the youngsters, that won't secure his spot on the roster. With Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and rookie James White locks to make the cut down to 53 and James Develin likely to see action at both tight end and fullback, the New England Patriots may choose to only keep three true halfbacks.
Keeping three running backs could allow them to hang on to an extra defensive back, receiver or offensive lineman.
Nate Ebner (SAF)
Nate Ebner usually seems to find himself in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, that luck may have ran out. Ebner is currently part of a New England Patriots secondary loaded with talented options.
When you're strong suit is special teams—Ebner played five defensive snaps in 2013—it is tough to match value with the likes of hybrid defensive backs like Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington.
Even if a rookie like Jemea Thomas—who looked good in coverage against the Philadelphia Eagles—can offer 80 percent of the special teams prowess that Ebner can, his ability to contribute and develop on the defensive side of the ball should win out.
Special teams coordinator Scott O'Brien might be able to stave off Ebner's release, but an impressive showing as a safety against the Carolina Panthers this Friday night would go a long way in helping Belichick keep him on the 53-man roster.
Jake Bequette (DE)
Depending on the company and beverages, sitting on a boat for hours and not catching a fish is one of the more frustrating experiences one can have. Belichick is still waiting to reel in Jake Bequette's potential.
With the—at times erratic—development of Michael Buchanan and the experience of Will Smith, the New England Patriots may have to cut ties with the third-round pick after only two largely disappointing seasons, harkening back to the gilded age of Shawn Crable.
After failing to impress against the Philadelphia Eagles—a batted pass and a missed tackle are all to show for his 34 snaps—he now has just two remaining preseason games to give the Patriots' coaching staff a reason to believe.
Chris White (LB/ST)
After the trio of Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo, the linebacker depth chart is anything but decided. James Anderson's coverage ability seems to put him in the driver's seat for the fourth linebacker position, but nothing is decided yet.
Second-year player Steve Beauharnais and veteran Chris White seemed locked in a battle for what could be the final inside linebacker position on the roster. Neither offered much on the defensive side of the ball in 2013—they each played just one snap—but White's five special teams tackles put him fifth on the team.
So far in preseason, neither Beauharnais nor White have excelled in extensive play. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Beauharnais has struggled against the pass, while White has struggled against the run.
Beauharnais has stepped up the game on special teams, however, racking up two of the team's eight tackles this preseason. It will be an interesting choice for Bill Belichick and Scott O'Brien to make, but I think Beauharnais' youth and defensive upside wins out in the end.