Thursday, 6 August 2009

Community Shield Preview

Just posting up my first blog at thelondonpaper.com on this weekend's Community Shield between Chelsea and Manchester United.

The article is here and soon there will be a homepage for the column. Enjoy!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

New England Patriots Roster Stacked

As training camps across the NFL opened this past week, I thought it time I devoted a blog to my team, the New England Patriots. A few weeks ago I read a piece by one of my favourite writers, The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss on his prediction for the 53 man opening day roster and then late Saturday night I was bored enough to do my own.

Immediately, I noticed just how deep the Pats' present roster is, even with an 80 man limit during camp. As an example, developmental safety Antwain Spann was cut a week ago as the Patriots front office trimmed down to make camp limits after the last of the 2009 draft class signed their rookie contracts. Spann, who was an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana-Lafayette, spent three years with New England between the main roster and practice squad, and filled Rodney Harrison's spot after the now retired veteran was put on IR during the 2008 season. While by no means a future Ed Reed he was quickly signed by the Buffalo Bills.

And there will be more examples of good young players like this, even current draft picks, who even if they make the practice squad will be available for 31 other GMs to cherry pick as they please.

Players in bold I consider to be locks, players in italics are doubts. Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway I don't see as locks just for the moment because of their age.

QB (3) Brady, O’Connell, Gutierrez
RB (4/5) Morris, Faulk, Maroney, Taylor, Green-Ellis
WR (5/6) Moss, Welker, Galloway, Lewis, Aiken, Edelman
TE (3/4) Baker, Watson, A. Smith
OL (8/9) Light, Mankins, Koppen, Neal, Kazcur, Vollmer, Hochstein, Bussey
DL (6/7) Seymour, Wilfork, Warren, Brace, Wright, Green, L.K. Smith
LB (8) A. Thomas, Mayo, Bruschi, Woods, Guyton, Banta-Cain, Lenon, Alexander
CB (5) Bodden, Springs, Butler, Wilhite, Wheatley
S (4) Sanders, Meriweather, Chung, McGowan
K,P,LS (3) Gostkowski, Hanson, Hodel/Ingram
ST (1) Ventrone

Reserve lists: Crable, McKenzie, Tate, Ohrnberger, Richard, Barnes, Kettani

A number of things jump out. Firstly, there is no full back on the roster. Since Heath Evans signed as a free agent for the New Orleans Saints the Patriots have not carried one. Most analysts believe that Bill Belichick will opt to use an offensive lineman in power formations and use one of the tight ends on the roster as an H-Back, perhaps former Buccaneer Alex Smith.

Secondly, at least two offensive linemen from last year's roster will probably not be making the team. With a 2nd round pick invested in Houston tackle Sebastian Vollmer and a 5th round pick used up on Louisville guard/tackle George Bussey and also with the possibility of only carrying eight players at the position it looks like proven backups will find themselves released or placed on the practice squad: Ryan O'Callaghan, Billy Yates and Mark LeVoir being the most notable names. Rookie 4th round pick Rich Ohrnberger is presently on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list and would create havoc on the roster if he proves himself fit.

At the tight end position, where one of the biggest training camp battles is taking place, David Thomas and Tyson DeVree seem to be facing off for a roster spot that may or may not exist. Thomas, a former third round pick who has shown soft hands but struggled with injuries and was famed last year for a drive ending penalty in a loss at Indianapolis, could prove to be a good pickup for another franchise while DeVree has thus far impressed in camp.

On the defensive line the Patriots may carry as many as 7 linemen for ostensibly three positions. Rookie 2nd round pick Ron Brace from Boston shoves fourth year man Le Kevin Smith, who is favoured by Belichick and co, towards the bubble and barring something surprising, means rookie 6th round man Myron Pryor and 7th rounder Darryl Richard will not make the opening day roster.

At linebacker, where New England has most of its questions in terms of talent the biggest worry is Shawn Crable, who opened camp on PUP. If he doesn't make the roster this may allow 6th year man Eric Alexander, most famed for starting the 2006 AFC Championship Game against the Colts, to stick around, but it still means safety/linebacker hybrid Tank Williams might not make the roster. Vince Redd, who was promoted to the main roster at the end of last year as an undrafted free agent was cut Sunday with Bill Belichick complimenting his skills.

I have one special teams 'specialist' (apart from Sam Aiken, who looks a good bet to captain the unit) making the roster in Ray "Bubba" Ventrone. The former NFL Europe man has worked out at both wide receiver and defensive back, but does not seem to excel at either.

Other names who face a major fight to make the team include kick returner Matt Slater, who struggled last year in that role but has talent, corner Mike Richardson who is blocked out by a deep corps at his position and rookie free agent wide receiver Terrence Nunn, who is thusfar impressing in camp and could yet unseat former Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman.

The rumoured signing of free agent veteran Cleo Lemon suggests Coach Belichick is not entirely happy with either Matt Gutierrez or undrafted free agent Brian Hoyer. The Patriots could open up the season carrying just two signal callers if they feel supremely confident in Tom Brady's knee and this would give space to carry an extra player.

Whatever happens, the competition in camp and during pre-season figures to be enormous and with such deep talent, don't be surprised if a known veteran or two is cut.