Roster spots starting to become more clear

Perry: Latest 53-man roster projection has some changes since camp kicked off originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick will tell you. His players will tell you. His assistants will tell you. There’s a long way to go before any of these matters. Long way.

At the same time, we’ve now seen several spring practices, about two weeks of training camp and, on Friday, a half-speed scrimmage featuring projected first-teamers versus backups.

Long way. Got it.

But with a weekend devoid of media availability at One Patriot Place, this seems like a good time to take a breath and try to figure out how this roster will be constructed once the games actually matter.

Here’s our best guess at the moment based on what we’ve seen and heard to this point in camp ahead of the preseason opener Thursday against the Giants.

Quarterback (3)

Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe

No surprises here. The only question is if Bailey Zappe — who made noticeable improvements over the course of time when Hoyer missed early camp practices — could possibly win the No. 2 jobs.

Running back (4)

Rhamondre Stevenson, Damien Harris, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong

Ty Montgomery looks poised to make the roster at this point. He’s a capable sub back. He appears to be one of the more comfortable outside zone runners on the team through two weeks of practice. He can align at receiver. And he can return kicks. The more you can do …

OUT: Kevin Harris, JJ Taylor, James White (PUP)

wide receiver (6)

DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Tre Nixon

This still feels like a group where one player is destined to go. We just don’t know which one yet. Otherwise it’s almost too deep. But depth at this spot is a good thing, especially if someone like Parker — who has an injury history — gets beat up.

If Friday’s in-stadium practice is any indication of anything, Thornton and Nixon were Team White wideouts, meaning they were with the backups. The other four were on Team Blue. But Thornton’s making the team. And I believe Nixon has made a case to do the same.

OUT: Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Kristian Wilkerson, Josh Hammond

tight end (2)

Hunter Henry, Jonna Smith

Dalton Keene has missed several practices with an undisclosed injury and Devin Asiasi has had too many shaky moments when the ball hits his mitts. He dropped one of Bailey Zappe’s best throws of camp earlier in the week.

If the Patriots only have two NFL players here — even if the position is critical to their offense — they’ll only keep two.

OUT: Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Matt Sokol

Offensive line (8)

Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Arlington Hambright

Hambright, come on down. He and Onwenu have split starter reps recently. Is Onwenu not a great fit for the new scheme? Have the Patriots simply seen enough good from Hambright that they want to see what it looks like if he’s the top replacement on the interior? He has a shot. As does James Ferentz, who has vast experience in Foxboro and positional flexibility. The Patriots may feel they can get him onto the practice squad, though.

OUT: Yasir Durant, Kody Russey, Drew Desjarlais, James Ferentz, Will Sherman, Bill Murray, Chasen Hines (NFI), Andrew Stueber (NFI)

Special teams (6)

Matthew Slater, Cody Davis, Justin Bethel, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Nick Folk

I believe Brenden Schooler — the top-tier athlete from Texas — has a shot to make it as a kicking-game specialist and safety. But not sure he’s worked his way up the special teams depth chart high enough to be considered for a spot just yet. He has time.

OUT: Tristan Vizcaino, Ross Reiter, Jake Julien, Brenden Schooler

Defensive line (6)

Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Dietrich Wise, Henry Anderson, LaBryan Ray

One undrafted free agent I could certainly see claiming a place on the 53? Ray. He’s been disruptive from the interior and he won a rep on Trent Brown in 1-on-1s from the outside. He makes a play a day and appears to have been a steal. Just another possible success story in the ‘Bama-to-Foxboro pipeline.

Carl Davis is someone who could end up landing on the 53, but he fell just outside the cut line here.

OUT: Daniel Ekuale, Sam Roberts, Jeremiah Pharms, Carl Davis

Outside linebacker (4)

Matt JudonJosh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Anfernee Jennings

Speaking of Crimson Tide success stories … there may not be a player who looks more improved from last year to this one than Jennings. In fairness, that’s because we didn’t see Jennings last year. He missed the season. But he’s knifed into the backfield on a consistent basis in team drills, he’s winning his opportunities in 1-on-1s, and he was part of Team Blue on Friday. Certainly not a bad sign.

Perkins, meanwhile, has yet to flash much this summer. But for defensive and special-teams depth — and because he was a third-rounder just a year ago — he makes it here. He may have to fend off undrafted rookie DaMarcus Mitchell and versatile vet Harvey Langi to stick.

OUT: DaMarcus Mitchell, Harvey Langi

Inside linebacker (3)

Ja’Whaun Bentley, Mack Wilson, Raekwon McMillan

This seems light and it would come as no surprise if Bill Belichick wanted another ‘backer or two here. But not sure anyone outside of the above three have a stranglehold on one.

Cam McGrone has been mostly quiet and not often working in with the top group. Jahlani Tavai might have a shot because of his special teams skill, but he just suffered an injury that could keep him out for some time. And I wonder if Belichick sees his strong safety group — a deep one — as being able to supplement what he has here.

It’s 2022, after all. Sun is the new base. And depending on where you look, there are safeties who may play linebacker more often than linebackers do.

OUT: Jahlani Tavai, Cam McGrone, Nate Wieland

Strong safety (4)

Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Josh Bledsoe

Bledsoe is a change here for us. But he’s made it clear he deserves roster consideration. When Devin McCourty has been given some down time in camp to this point — and with Peppers out — it’s been Bledsoe who has filled in. And he made his presence felt by getting his hands into passing lanes on a relatively frequent basis. In college he played in the box and in the slot. The Patriots seem to think he can play in the deep part of the field, too. At least at this early juncture, he’s earned a mention here, in my opinion.

OUT: Jalen Elliott, Brad Hawkins

Free safety (1)

Devin McCourty

The Patriots will use their safeties in a variety of ways this year. They are one of this team’s strengths. Their ability to deceive on the back end could help them mask any lack of talent they have at other spots.

Phillips will play deep at times. So maybe Dugger or slot corner Jonathan Jones. But as far as true free safeties go? McCourty is the guy.

Cornerback (6)

Malcolm Butler, Jalen Mills, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Terrance Mitchell

There’s an interesting series of choices to be made here by Belichick and director of player personnel Matt Groh. Keep Myles Bryant as a young player with some room to grow, even if the Patriots already have players who project to play similar roles — Jon and Marcus Jones — on the roster?

Or keep Malcolm Butler, even if his long speed may be a question and with three other outside corners — Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell, Jack Jones — potentially ahead of him on the depth chart come September? Or keep both? Or part with both for depth elsewhere on the roster?

The above group makes the most sense for right now, at least from this vantage point. But there’s plenty of time for decisions here to become more obvious.

OUT: Shaun Wade, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant

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