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August 30. 2014 11:35PM

Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Pats' cuts hold few surprises

AFTER trimming a trio of established veterans earlier in the week, and trading tenured guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay, the roster paring done to put the Patriots' roster in compliance with the NFL's 53-man limit proved uneventful and unsurprising late Saturday afternoon, when the team's decision to forgo a seventh wide receiver was arguably its most noteworthy subtraction.

There had been murmurs about more recognizable names being released - but quarterback Ryan Mallett kept his job as the Pats opted to stick with two backups behind Tom Brady; running back Stevan Ridley remains despite the persistent fumble problems that could've made him expendable; and a few standing members of the defensive secondary survived the job-claiming ascension of cornerback Malcolm Butler.

Instead, 19 players were passed pink slips, including five first-year players, two draft picks, six rookie free agents and six veterans - the standout name of the latter group likely being wideout Josh Boyce, and only because the Pats took him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.

Speedy but undersized, Boyce began his Patriots career with a toe injury, then ended it with an ankle injury that cost him a chance to play in the postseason. Between those ailments he appeared in nine games (three starts), making nine catches and returning nine kicks.

Based on that lack of production and doubtable durability, he was never going to make the team ahead of Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola, or special teams star Matthew Slater. He fell farther down the depth chart when the Pats signed free agent Brandon LaFell in the spring, effectively forcing Boyce to outshine either Aaron Dobson or Kenbrell Thompkins if there were no major injuries during training camp.

He couldn't, and didn't do enough to justify the Pats keeping seven players at that position.

Beyond Boyce, the move most likely to be noticeable on game day is the release of long snapper Danny Aiken, who'd manned that position in the team's past 55 games, and thus had familiarity with holder and punter Ryan Allen.

It's maybe the most curious of the cuts the Pats made Saturday, given that it left starting defensive end Rob Ninkovich as the only player on the roster with experience in that role, though New England did give Harvard product Tyler Ott a look earlier this offseason, so it's possible he could be signed before next week's opener at Miami. It's also possible that Aiken's release was a procedural necessity to facilitate another move, and Aiken himself returns before the week is over.

None of the other maneuvering should've raised an eyebrow. Defensive linemen Jerel Worthy was acquired from Green Bay in a trade early in training camp, but wasn't particularly impressive at any point, so the Pats let him walk. Defensive end Jake Bequette was a third-round choice in 2012, but appeared in only eight games over two seasons.

The two other veterans let go were Steve Beauharnais - a 2013 seventh-rounder who played in two games as a rookie - and 26-year-old Steve Maneri, a journeyman tight end-turned offensive lineman-turned tight end who has been with five organizations in five seasons.

Either linebacker Ja'Gared Davis or safety Kanorris Davis could've potentially made the squad with special teams in mind - but the Patriots instead opted to and doubtable durability, he was never going to make the team ahead of Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola, or special teams star Matthew Slater. He fell farther down the depth chart when the Pats signed free agent Brandon LaFell in the spring, effectively forcing Boyce to outshine either Aaron Dobson or Kenbrell Thompkins if there were no major injuries during training camp.

He couldn't, and didn't do enough to justify the Pats keeping seven players at that position.

Beyond Boyce, the move most likely to be noticeable on game day is the release of long snapper Danny Aiken, who'd manned that position in the team's past 55 games, and thus had familiarity with holder and punter Ryan Allen.

It's maybe the most curious of the cuts the Pats made Saturday, given that it left starting defensive end Rob Ninkovich as the only player on the roster with experience in that role, though New England did give Harvard product Tyler Ott a look earlier this offseason, so it's possible he could be signed before next week's opener at Miami. It's also possible that Aiken's release was a procedural necessity to facilitate another move, and Aiken himself returns before the week is over.

None of the other maneuvering should've raised an eyebrow. Defensive linemen Jerel Worthy was acquired from Green Bay in a trade early in training camp, but wasn't particularly impressive at any point, so the Pats let him walk. Defensive end Jake Bequette was a third-round choice in 2012, but appeared in only eight games over two seasons.

The two other veterans let go were Steve Beauharnais - a 2013 seventh-rounder who played in two games as a rookie - and 26-year-old Steve Maneri, a journeyman tight end-turned offensive lineman-turned tight end who has been with five organizations in five seasons.

Either linebacker Ja'Gared Davis or safety Kanorris Davis could've potentially made the squad with special teams in mind - but the Patriots instead opted to keep Darius Fleming and Chris White over Ja'Gared, with Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner over Kanorris.

Fellow first-year players Braxston Cave (offensive line), Jonas Gray (running back), and Daxton Swanson (defensive back) were also cut, as were late-round draftees Jon Halapio and Jeremy Gallon.

Expect the Pats to stash the offensive guard and receiver on their practice squad if they clear waivers. The same goes for fleet back Roy Finch (who got a legitimate look as a kick-returner), safety Shamiel Gary, defensive linemen Eathyn Manumaleuna and L.T. Tuipulotu, linebacker Taylor McCuller, and offensive tackle Chris Martin.

The decisions took the Patriots to the 4 p.m. deadline with five running backs, six receivers, 10 defensive backs and 18 linemen - nine on each side of scrimmage. On the defensive line the club's moves suggest a level of comfort with the physical progress of injury questions Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga and Dominique Easley, while the choice to go with just three tight ends would seemingly bode well for Rob Gronkowski's Week 1 availability.

Of course, there are still seven days to Sunday, and any (or all) of this is very much subject to change. Last year the Patriots made more than two dozen tweaks to the roster between cutdown day and the season opener. With every NFL team needing to trim its roster there are now hundreds of players newly available, some of whom will certainly appeal to the Patriots - and any of whom could make the maneuvering of the coming days more surprising than the clean up done Saturday.

It is likely to be settled by the sport's natural attrition rate, but the Patriots will have more decisions to make in the passing game in the next five weeks, when cornerback Brandon Browner and receiver Brian Tyms are eligible to return.

Each of them is serving a four-game league-mandated drug suspension, so they don't count against the 53-man cap, but once they've served their penalty the team must either activate or release each within a week. Barring injury that leaves any of the aforementioned safeties, and Thompkins in particular among the receiving corps, facing pressure to perform in the early part of the regular season.

Another player retained outside of the roster limit was rookie linebacker James Morris, who was placed on injured reserve and will miss the season.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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