James White rumbles for a few extra yards Thursday night against the Giants. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — With the cuts looming this weekend and the regular season just around the corner, here’s a a look at 10 players in the wake of the preseason finale against the Giants, and how their performance in Thursday’s contest will impact their standing on the roster going forward.
The third-string quarterback got all the snaps on the night, and while there’s very little likelihood he’ll be around after the final cuts come down on Saturday, he may have done enough to win a roster spot somewhere else. He went 22-for-45 on the evening, throwing for 253 yards with an interception and four sacks. He played well in some of the situations he and the rest of the New England backups were thrown into, but he was remarkably ordinary in many others. In the overall pantheon of Patriots’ quarterbacking performances in the fourth preseason game of the summer, it was better than Tim Tebow (6-for-11, 91 yards, four sacks, one touchdown in 2013), but short of Brian Hoyer (18-for-25, 242 yards, one touchdown in 2009). Granted, that’s not saying much, but it should be enough to find him a job somewhere by the start of the regular season.
The Marshall product had the last chance to make his case on Thursday against the Giants, and while he wasn’t overwhelming, it’s worth noting that he did finish with four catches on the evening (tying LeGarrette Blount and Asante Cleveland for most catches on the team) and 56 yards (a team-high). That included a nice 24-yard reception via Lindley midway through the second quarter where he juggled the ball before coming away with it. (The Patriots took a shot toward Dobson in the end zone on the following play, but couldn’t connect.) From this viewpoint, when it comes to cuts on Saturday, Dobson is still squarely on the bubble.
While the work of Dion Lewis over the last two weeks of the preseason should be enough for him to win the third-down job to start the season, it appears that White did enough on Thursday night to leave Travaris Cadet (who didn’t play at all in the game) expendable when the final cuts are made over the weekend. The youngster out of Wisconsin, who is entering his second full year with the team, saw plenty of action against the Giants — he led the team with 12 touches on the night (10 carries, 2 catches) and while he wasn’t overpowering, certainly showed enough that he warranted a roster spot as Lewis’ backup going into the 2015 season. With Shane Vereen in the building for the first time since he signed a free-agent deal with the Giants, it was hard not to look at White and wonder if he has the same capacity for growth as someone like Vereen had when he was in New England. Vereen struggled to find his way in his first two years with New England before finding his groove in 2013 and 2014. If White follows the same arc, the Patriots will likely be very happy with the result.
The big back was on the field into the second half Thursday against the Giants, but along with Reggie Wayne, he’s an exception to the rule of veterans playing in the preseason finale. Blount needed to get as much work as possible in for a few reasons, not the least of which includes the fact that he’s suspended for the first game of the regular season and the Patriots needed him to get in as much work as possible before his brief vacation. (For the record, Brandon Browner was in the same spot last summer, and he played deep into the fourth preseason game of the summer before sitting for the first four games of the regular season.) One thing to remember about Blount — while he’ll never be confused with Shane Vereen when it comes to skills as a pass catcher, he’s been incorporated more and more in the passing game over the course of the summer. He caught a few more passes on Thursday against the Giants; from this viewpoint, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him hit at least double-digits in receptions this season.
The Rutgers product started camp as the No. 2 cornerback on the depth chart, but it was a slow and steady slide down the depth chart over the course of camp for Ryan. At the start of the summer, he was on the field with the starting defense. On Thursday night against the Giants, he was on the field in the second half, running alongside guys Daxton Swanson and other defensive backs who are considered twos and threes. It could be a matter of trying some new guys in new places, or just an attempt to get him as much playing time as possible. But on a night where the likes of Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher and Tarell Brown all took the night off, it wasn’t a good look for Ryan.
The veteran out of Fresno State got the start at center, his first action of the summer after spending the bulk of camp on PUP. He played roughly the entire first quarter before calling it a night, and looked solid. The fact that he was on the field is a win for the Patriots, who could use a veteran presence along the interior of that offensive line. Regardless if he plays center (if Bryan Stork is out for an extended stretch) or steps in at one of the guard positions (likely left guard), the sight of him on the field is a positive one for New England at this stage of the summer.
The young defensive end out of Tarleton State is a really intriguing prospect, and continued to flash positively last night. (He came close to blocking a first-half punt.) He’s one of the longest edge players the Patriots have had in a long time, and he’s really played well over the course of the summer — well enough where it would be a challenge to get him through waivers to the practice squad, if they wanted to try and go that route. But New England is already really deep at the defensive end spot, which presents a problem. He could go on injured reserve with a *cough* injury *cough* between now and the start of the season, which would allow the Patriots to stash him for the 2015 season. Or you could take the chance on the practice squad. Or keep him at the expense of someone else? He did take some snaps at defensive tackle on Thursday night, and that could end up providing New England with more value. But regardless, he’s done his job when it comes to making this tough for the coaching staff when it comes down to cutdown day.
At the start of the evening — and on the heels of a pretty impressive summer — the sight of the young receiver out of Cal relaxing on the sidelines with the rest of his teammates sparked a thought that the undrafted rookie free agent was relatively secure in his roster standing. However, he was on the field late in the game running with the twos and threes, and ended the night with two catches on three targets for 27 yards. He played as well as could be expected under the circumstances, and we’re still fairly certain that he’ll find a way to stick around Foxboro once the final cuts come down over the weekend. But the sight of him on the field late in the game is certainly food for thought when it comes to his position on the roster.
The veteran got the start in the final preseason game, and will likely be remembered as one of the exceptions to the rule when it comes to veterans seeing extensive time in the preseason finale. It was a better evening for Wayne than he had last week against the Panthers, as he played the first half and ended the night with an unofficial total of 38 snaps. Wayne had two catches on 10 targets for 24 yards — a 6-yarder early after a crazy scramble by Lindley, as well as an 18-yarder on a nice floater down the sidelines from Lindley near the end of the first quarter. The veteran was also able to draw a defensive pass interference call late on a fourth-down play in the second quarter that helped keep a New England scoring drive alive. It wasn’t an All-Pro stat line, and he looked like a guy who was still in the early stages of the acclimation process. But from this viewpoint, there’s no reason to suggest that the veteran pass catcher won’t be a part of the Patriots when the regular season opens in a week.
This needs to be said because it really hasn’t been addressed over the course of the summer, as well as the preseason: Gostkowski has been really good in the run-up to the regular season, and after signing a big deal in the offseason, appears poised for a big year. He was 3-for-3 in Thursday’s preseason finale against New York, with makes from 34, 33 and 50 yards. Over the preseason, Gostkowski was 7-for-8, with his lone miss coming from 57 yards out against the Saints. Gostkowski was already considered one of the best kickers in the game after last season, and based on the body of work he’s put together this summer, there’s no reason to think he won’t hold the same lofty spot in 2015.
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