The expectations are as high as ever for the Patriots. They have a fully reloaded roster that looks primed to repeat, on paper. While that is good news it may be bad news for some players who may have a hard time finding a spot on the roster. Training camp will be key for these players to perform at a high level during practices and workouts to prove their value to the team.
Certain players we can assume will be locks to make the team and keep their spots on the depth chart (Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski) but let us examine specific players that are on the hot seat heading into training camp. We will start on offense.
Brandon Bolden, RB: I believe Brandon Bolden will be a Patriot in 2017 but I also put him on the hot seat. After a down season last year Bolden will look to bounce back and remain a contributor on both special teams and offense when needed. While still a contributor on special teams last year he struggled offensively. It will be difficult to find the field in a crowded backfield that includes playmakers like James White and Dion Lewis as well as newcomers Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead. Bolden will try to rekindle the trust he has with Brady on offense but his importance to the roster remains on special teams.
Michael Williams, TE: A 300-pound tight end, Michael Williams has been used as a pass catcher at times and has pretty reliable hands but his value to the team comes from his blocking ability. After tearing his ACL last spring and landing on injured reserve it put the Patriots in a bind at the blocking TE position. With Rob Gronkowski and newly acquired Dwayne Allen as surefire locks, Williams will be pushing for the number three tight end spot on the depth chart.
LaAdrian Waddle, LT: As the backup tackle for the Patriots, LaAdrian Waddle saw minimal action last season and that may hurt his chances at keeping his spot on the roster. The five-year veteran will have to fight for his job with newly drafted tackle Tony Garcia. Protecting the quarterback remains at the top of the list of importance for the Patriots offense and if Waddle gets outperformed in that area by the rookie, he may be on the way out.
Now onto the defensive side of the ball.
Cyrus Jones, DB: If any second-year player that was a 2nd round pick could be in the hot seat, it is Cyrus Jones. Great kid, loves the game, performs well in practice, but has struggled immensely under the pressure on the big stage. Jones fumbled four punts and one kickoff last season and in result lost the job as the primary kick returner and had trouble finding the field on defense. The lights are not too bright for Jones he just needs to regain his confidence and that starts on the practice field. He also needs to regain the coaching staff’s trust. This is a critical time for him to show he belongs on the field and contributing to this defense and special teams.
Geneo Grissom, DE: While mostly a minor contributor on special teams, Geneo Grissom has not been able to perform at the level the Patriots were hoping when drafting him in the third round in 2015. After not making the second year leap many predicted it is crucial for Grissom to show his worth during training camp if he wants to keep a spot on the roster. Rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. may turn heads and climb his way up the depth chart, knocking Grissom off.
Jonathan Freeny, LB: Shoulder injuries landed Jonathan Freeny on IR early last season and he has been working hard to get back into playing shape. A dependable linebacker for the Patriots, Freeny provides solid depth to the linebacker core when healthy. He needs to prove he is healthy and can remain that way. I think he ends up making the roster but the reason I have him on the hot seat is because of the possibility that recently signed undrafted free agent Harvey Langi takes his spot. Langi is a versatile linebacker that played inside and outside for BYU and could fight his way onto this defense especially if he can make plays on special teams.
The offense is arguably the best it has ever looked on paper and will provide for a ton of competition during the offseason. The defense was ranked number one overall in points last season and looks to continue building on those efforts. This should bring the best out of the players during training camp and result in a high level of intense competition. Jobs will be won or lost, earned and not given.
Thanks, now we are on to more sports talk.