ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Patriots are on to August. They’ve made it through a few weeks of training camp.
They’ve also engaged in joint practice sessions with the Detroit Lions as a lead-up to Thursday night’s preseason opener at Ford Field in Detroit.
There’s been plenty of camp battles waged with players starting to build cases for roster spots. Coach Bill Belichick now has started to form a plan of how certain players will fit on offense, defense and special teams.
With that in mind, here’s our third crack at projecting the Patriots 53-man roster:
QUARTERBACK (3): MAKING THE TEAM
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham; FALLING SHORT: Danny Etling
The Herald’s Take: There have been a few developments since our last projection. Brady finally received his contract extension, so that won’t carry into the season. Stidham, the fourth-round draft pick, still has some issues to work on but has shown improvement. His ability is starting to rise above the problem areas as he’s making more plays with his strong, accurate arm. Hoyer has been fairly steady, which is his calling card. There’s still not enough at this point to just go with Stidham as the backup. As for Etling, he’s been asked to try his hand at playing receiver to see if his skillset might work there. He’s giving his best, but he’s going to come up short.
RUNNING BACK (5): Brandon Bolden, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White; FALLING SHORT: Nick Brossette
The Herald’s Take: Michel, who had a clean-up procedure performed on his knee earlier in the year, has come off the PUP and looked very good, running and making cuts. It also appears he’s made a concerted effort to improve on catching passes coming out of the backfield. Being a dual threat will help him and the offense. He just needs to take care of the football a little better. Rookie Harris provides the same type of threat, so he’ll push Michel for reps during the year. Burkhead has been nursing some kind of injury of late. He can’t seem to stay healthy. White has looked good and Bolden is taking his usual training camp reps just in case he’s needed during the season.
FULLBACK (1): James Develin; FALLING SHORT: Jakob Johnson
The Herald’s Take: There’s no reason to believe the Patriots won’t continue to rely pretty heavily on the run game. That means they’ll need their battering ram to lead the way. When it comes to Develin, few do a better job as the lead blocker and tone setter. He also provides some insurance at tight end if the need arises. Johnson is a practice squad candidate.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): Phillip Dorsett, Julian Edelman, Maurice Harris, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Matthew Slater; FALLING SHORT: Braxton Berrios, Ryan Davis, Dontrelle Inman, Gunner Olszewski, Damoun Patterson; ON IR: Cameron Meredith, Demaryius Thomas; SUSPENDED: Josh Gordon
The Herald’s Take: No changes from the last projection. If anything, Meyers has made even more of an impression. He’s front and center, a go-to-guy for Brady while Edelman has been out nursing his broken thumb. Rookie first-round pick Harry has been like a roller coaster, but since having a four-drop performance, has picked it up considerably and made some sensational plays. Berrios, meanwhile, hasn’t made enough plays. Slot corners are getting the best of him, although he did better the second practice against the Lions. Maybe his punt/kick return ability ultimately saves him. Harris hasn’t been playing with the top group for some reason. He still gets open and catches passes, but not quite at the same rate as earlier. He remains one of the best in the group. As for veteran Inman, he’s done next to nothing. The Pats signed Cameron Meredith and put him on the PUP list as he continues to recover from a knee injury. Meanwhile, Demaryius Thomas is getter closer. He’s still on the PUP list and is likely to start the season there. Josh Gordon, who is suspended indefinitely, applied for reinstatement, but it’s anyone’s guess when or if he’ll return.
TIGHT END (2): Matt LaCosse; Benjamin Watson (suspended first four weeks); FALLING SHORT: Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck, Ryan Izzo, Lance Kendricks
The Herald’s Take: With Watson suspended the first four games, hence the asterisk, it’s probably a good idea to have two other tight ends on board. That would work if there were two tight ends worth picking. No one has done much, with the exception of LaCosse. But even he’s had his share of difficulties with several drops. The Pats signed veteran Kendricks recently, but he’s been out injured the past week. Mostly out of protest, we’re going to go with one this time given Watson doesn’t count against the roster. There’s still time for someone to emerge, or the Patriots to find help elsewhere.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): David Andrews, Marcus Cannon, James Ferentz, Hjalte Froholdt, Ted Karras, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Isaiah Wynn; FALLING SHORT: Tyler Gauthier, Cedrick Lang, Dan Skipper, Tyree St. Louis
The Herald’s Take: The Patriots still have an issue at left tackle, so this is a tough one. It’s so hard to know if Wynn is going to be ready for the season opener. He didn’t engage in team drills against the Lions. Thuney moved over from his guard position to take over as Brady’s blind-side protector early on, but Skipper has been at the position recently. He’s a big dude (6-foot-9, 325) who still needs a lot of work. It’s just hard to imagine him being trusted with Brady’s well-being. If Wynn can’t go, it will likely be Thuney. Rookie tackle Yodny Cajuste is on the non-football injury list. So for now, the depth is going to come from Karras, Ferentz, who has had a good camp, and rookie Froholdt. They’ve tried bringing in veteran tackles. None have lasted. So Skipper probably makes it next time.
DEFENSIVE END (4): Michael Bennett, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise Jr.; FALLING SHORT: Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, Nick Thurman
The Herald’s Take: Rivers, who was a healthy scratch much of last season, is a tough cut. They’re giving him an opportunity, playing with the top group. He’s played well, but he’s still not ahead of Wise or Simon just yet. Wise has just been activated off the PUP list, so he’s just getting his sea legs. Winovich, meanwhile, was a stud during the Detroit practices. He got to the quarterback a lot, and stood-out during 1-on-1 drills. No surprise since he played his college ball at the University of Michigan and had a lot of fans rooting him on.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton; FALLING SHORT: Byron Cowart, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, David Parry
The Herald’s Take: It’ll be interesting to see if the Patriots stick with a 3-4 alignment up front as their base, which is what we’ve primarily seen during training camp. Pennel and Shelton have both played well in the middle. Butler and Guy have been complements on the ends. Whatever the alignment, it looks like it will be a decent group. They’ve been particularly stout on goal line drills. Rookie Cowart could make a push, but they’ll find a way to keep him around, whether it’s on the practice squad, or some mystery injury.
LINEBACKER (6): Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon King, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts; FALLING SHORT: Shilique Calhoun, Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, Christian Sam
The Herald’s Take: One new addition to this group is Roberts, who didn’t make the cut that last two times. The Pats are going to need depth at inside linebacker beyond Bentley and Hightower. Sam is another possibility. He’s flashed a bit during camp, but falls short with Roberts getting the nod over him. The toughest cut from the outside linebacker group is Calhoun. He really made a charge this past week, standing out during the joint practices with the Lions. If he stays hot the next few weeks, his status will change. Collins, meanwhile, has been terrific throughout. He made a ton of plays against the Lions in the team drills.
SAFETY (5): Terrance Brooks, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, Obi Melifonwu; FALLING SHORT: Malik Grant, A.J. Howard
The Herald’s Take: Assuming Nate Ebner remains on the PUP list with an undisclosed injury, this opens the door for Melifonwu to make the team initially. He’s played well during camp with three picks, and his size and athleticism make him a good match for opposing tight ends. He has also been involved in special teams. Brooks has been taking reps in the secondary, but he’s a more noted special teams player. After those two, it’s the usual suspects with McCourty, Harmon and Chung, who has been in the red non-contact jersey through training camp, but should be good to go by the time the season starts.
CORNERBACK (6): Keion Crossen, Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams; FALLING SHORT: Duke Dawson, D’Angelo Ross, Ken Webster
The Herald’s Take: Someone might be traded from this group to help the cause. But seven was too many from our previous listing. So we chopped Dawson. He’s been the least impressive of the lot. They’ll give a second-round pick a lot of rope, but not too much. Belichick won’t be afraid to make a tough decision. Unless Dawson picks it up, he’s out. It’s hard to cut Crossen given his enormous athletic gifts and his impact on special teams. Rookie Williams struggled early, but has turned the corner of late. He’s made some plays, and is not getting beat as often. McCourty hasn’t been great, but it’s hard to see the Pats parting with him.
SPECIALISTS (3): Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Stephen Gostkowski; FALLING SHORT: Ryan Allen
The Herald’s Take: One of the most enjoyable parts of training camp has been watching the punter’s duel. Incumbent Allen has had a significant fight on his hands. While he may be the dean of directional kicks, Bailey is the king of hang-time. His kicks soar and elevate to monstrous levels. He had Lion returners backpedalling for days during the joint practices. Now, Bailey isn’t perfect as we’ve seen a few shanks from him. Allen, a standout in Super Bowl LIII, has been steadier, but he appears to be fighting an uphill battle given the Pats traded up and spent a fifth-round pick on Bailey.