New England Patriots' Biggest Preseason Disappointments So Far
The New England Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions, but that doesn't mean everything is sunshine and rainbows at Gillette Stadium as the team gets ready to defend its crown.
Far from it; the Patriots are like every other team, trying to weed through some of their disappointing players this summer to whittle their roster down to a 53-man grouping in advance of the regular season.
By now, you've heard a lot about the studs of training camp: the Malcolm Butlers, Tom Bradys and Rob Gronkowskis of the group. But what about the duds, the underachievers, the disappointments?
Whether it's a player who's dealing with an injury or someone who simply hasn't lived up to the hopes and expectations, there are several players who could be looking for work elsewhere if their play or health doesn't improve before the end of the preseason.
Here's a look at a handful of those players.
Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are all firmly atop the Patriots' depth chart at wide receiver. Everything else beyond that is still up in the air.
The Patriots are still holding a battle for the final two spots. Josh Boyce, Brandon Gibson, Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson are all competing in that group, and it's likely that two of them will go home. If the decisions are based solely on performance, Boyce could find himself on the outs.
The former fourth-round pick has practiced well, but he has not performed well in games up to this point. According to Pro Football Focus, he had only two catches on 11 targets in the preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers, and did not notch a single catch against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night.
This season could be Boyce's final chance to make the roster and make an impact.
As mentioned in the previous slide, there's a deep competition taking place at the bottom of the Patriots depth chart at wide receiver.
Last year, Brian Tyms was the beneficiary of his own mistake; he was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. However, that allowed him to be kept on the roster without counting against the 53-man limit until he made his return to the field. But by that point, he had already spent all summer making plays in practice and in the preseason.
This year, he's not had that same kind of fortune. Tyms has been dealing with nagging injuries all summer; he missed time with a shoulder injury, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, and on Friday, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com reported that Tyms sustained a foot injury that could spell the end to his season.
Tyms has the size (6'3", 204 pounds) and the speed to be a deep threat for the Patriots, but he doesn't seem to have the health. That's the most important thing.
Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo have been on the mend for most of the offseason, so the Patriots were wise to go out in search of good insurance policies in the event that one or both were unable to play at the start of the season. One of the smartest of those moves was signing linebacker Dane Fletcher, but the Patriots have been unable to see exactly how wise of a move that was.
Fletcher has started out training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list, and according to Christopher Price of WEEI.com, he is expected to stay there until the start of the regular season.
Price notes that Fletcher suffered a torn ACL toward the end of the 2014 season. His inability to get back on the field is an indication that either the Patriots are playing it very safe with him, or he simply hasn't been cleared to practice just yet.
Between Jonathan Freeny, Cameron Gordon, Eric Martin and James Morris, the Patriots have to be keeping their fingers crossed that someone will emerge as a serviceable backup in Fletcher's stead until the veteran is ready to make his way back to the active roster.
On paper, it looks like the Patriots have a deep group of defensive tackles that should be more than enough to transition the team out of the Vince Wilfork era. If football were played on paper, though, the highest-spending team in free agency would be one of the final teams in the Super Bowl picture every year.
Defensive tackle Alan Branch was not a high-priced signing, at only $700,000 guaranteed on a two-year, $4.3 million contract, according to Over The Cap. But even with a low dollar figure, there were high expectations for Branch. The Patriots have two young first-round picks in defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Dominique Easley, but Branch's veteran experience was expected to bring a steadying presence to the group.
But Branch started off the summer on the non-football injury list, and although he made his return to the practice field on August 10, he hasn't stuck out much since then.
ESPN.com's Mike Reiss still expects Branch to be one of the starting defensive tackles, but it's a deep group. Between Branch, Easley, Brown, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Casey Walker and Antonio Johnson, the Patriots may not have enough room on the roster for everyone.
Someone's going home. It may not be Branch, who was a starter in the Patriots defense last year, but his role as a one-down player (31.7 percent of the snaps in games he played last year, according to Pro Football Focus) does pigeonhole him as a player lacking that every-down value on the defensive line.
For two years straight, Patriots cornerback Daxton Swanson has taken advantage of opportunities to make plays in spring practices. Now, this marks two years straight that he has been unable to carry that momentum into training camp to make a case for a roster spot.
Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Tarell Brown have emerged as the three front-runners at the cornerback spot. That leaves Swanson to compete with Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher and Darryl Roberts for the remaining playing time and/or roster spots.
Swanson got started off on the right foot in the Patriots' preseason opener against the Packers; he played 20 snaps (seven in coverage) and was not targeted once, according to Pro Football Focus. That being said, his playing time was not earned until the later stages of the game after the top unit had already come off the field.
Swanson could still land on the Patriots practice squad, but he appears to still be fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Unless otherwise noted, all practice notes, quotes and observations obtained firsthand.