Quick-hit thoughts on the NFL and the New England Patriots:
1. The Patriots kept just two quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster, marking the fourth time in the past five years they have done so. How does that compare to the other teams in the NFL? By my count, here is the breakdown for 2013 after Saturday’s cut-downs:
Four quarterbacks: three teams
Three quarterbacks: 15 teams
Two quarterbacks: 14 teams
The next step that will be interesting to monitor is how many of the 14 teams with just two quarterbacks add a third to their practice squad.
2. With all seven draft choices making the Patriots’ initial roster, plus five undrafted players, that initially gives the club 12 of its 51 spots filled by rookies. Add in six draft picks from last year still on the roster, plus 2012 undrafted running back Brandon Bolden, and that’s 19 players within their first two years in the NFL (35 percent of a 53-man roster). The Patriots have a solid veteran core, and trend older at some positions (defensive tackle, for example), but all in all, this is a very young team.
3. Let’s play the armchair-general-manager game for the Patriots when it comes to their defensive tackle need and see if we can hit the bull's-eye. Here were a few players at the position we could envision being of interest to the Patriots on the waiver wire:
Marvin Austin (Giants): The second-round pick out of North Carolina in 2011 hasn’t panned out, as his rookie season was wiped out by a torn pectoral muscle and he didn't break through last year. He is 6-foot-2 and 312 pounds. As ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano noted, the Giants are pretty deep at defensive tackle, so part of Austin’s release was a numbers game.
Kheeston Randall (Dolphins): The 6-foot-5, 309-pounder who played collegiately at Texas appeared in 12 games for Miami last season. He was a 2012 seventh-round pick and has some physical traits (e.g. long arms) that might have some appeal to New England.
Adam Replogle (Falcons): The undrafted rookie is 6-3 and 310 pounds, and started the final 47 games of his collegiate career at Indiana, where he was known for his work ethic and reliability. Patriots defensive line coach Patrick Graham had worked him out before the draft.
Torell Troup (Bills): He has battled injuries in the past but has some physical traits (6-3, 327) that could be appealing as a bigger-bodied backup to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Bill Belichick got to know him well on his annual pre-draft scouting trip in 2010. Troup, who played at Central Florida, was picked by the Bills in the second round that year. He has some partially guaranteed money in his contract, so it might be smarter, if interested, for the Patriots to see if he clears waivers and then bring him in.
4. While the Patriots are extremely thin at defensive tackle, which they figure to address with one of their open roster spots, it led us to check in on former New England tackles Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick in Jacksonville. Both made the Jaguars’ initial 53-man roster and are backups to Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller, who were signed as unrestricted free agents this offseason. Deaderick missed the first two games of the preseason with a groin injury, but is now healthy. Looking back, it’s only natural to wonder if the Patriots have any regret in parting ways with Love and Deaderick, as they created a void without having the reinforcements in place. In fairness, they were counting on Armond Armstead to play an integral role, but he later landed on the reserve/non-football illness list (he’s out at least the first six weeks of the season) after undergoing surgery for an infection.
4b. One more check-in: Patriots 2009 second-round draft choice Ron Brace didn’t make the initial 53-man roster with the Redskins. Given the depth questions at defensive tackle, would the Patriots consider bringing him back? Our guess: They probably look elsewhere.
5. Given the makeup of their initial roster -- with six receivers, five running backs, one fullback and three tight ends (one of whom, Rob Gronkowski, won’t be ready for the season opener) -- the Patriots figure to trend more toward three-receiver and two-back sets than multiple-tight-end packages early in the season. So while this is a team that has a reputation as a two-tight-end offense, which goes back to 2011 with the dynamic duo of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the early part of this season is likely to have a different look. For the Sept. 8 opener at Buffalo, the three-receiver grouping might turn out to be the best matchup anyway, as the Bills are hurting at cornerback and it could hit their stress points from a depth perspective.
6. With Elvis Dumervil now in Baltimore, and Von Miller facing a six-game suspension to open the year, what’s left for the Broncos at defensive end? The free-agent signing of veteran Shaun Phillips looks more significant now, as Denver will count on him to help fill the void along with Derek Wolfe (2012 second-round pick out of Cincinnati) and Malik Jackson (2012 fifth-round pick out of Tennessee). One lingering question is if the Broncos will be able to generate enough pass rush. As for Phillips, he jumped to the Broncos after spending the first nine years of his career with the Chargers, putting him in almost the same position as linebacker Daryl Smith, who signed with the Ravens after spending the first nine years of his career with the Jaguars. Both are stepping into important roles -- Phillips helping fill the Miller void and Smith part of the puzzle to account for Ray Lewis’ absence -- which is a neat storyline for the Denver/Baltimore NFL season opener.
7. When it comes to the Patriots’ rookie receivers, I think the pace of their progression goes in the reverse order of how they arrived: Undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins is furthest along, followed by speedy fourth-round pick Josh Boyce (Texas Christian) and then second-rounder Aaron Dobson (Marshall). The thought occurred to me as Thompkins was given the veteran treatment in the second half of Thursday's preseason finale, watching from the sideline as Boyce and Dobson were still on the field playing.
8. With news that the Bills signed center Eric Wood to a long-term contract extension, it served as a reminder that he was a player I believe the Patriots had targeted as one of their ideal choices in the 2009 draft. That was the year the team traded down twice -- from 23 (Michael Oher) to 26 (Clay Matthews) to 34, where they selected safety Patrick Chung. Had Wood been on the board at 34, I think he would have received strong consideration. Had they stuck at 26, maybe they would have taken him there. Not that the Patriots are currently hurting at center, as Ryan Wendell has developed into a solid starter, but there was a lot of smoke around the Patriots and Wood that year.
9. The Raiders did what I thought the Patriots might by keeping two punters on their initial 53-man roster, as they view both Chris Kluwe and Marquette King as assets. The thinking, it appears, is that maybe the Raiders could trade one of them for a draft pick, although it's hard to imagine that unfolding. As for New England, rookie Ryan Allen was so impressive that the Patriots didn’t think he would clear waivers so they could bring him back on the practice squad (I thought that maybe by waiting a week or two, it would have a better chance of happening). So instead of keeping two, they just kept Allen and said goodbye to Zoltan Mesko, who should be punting somewhere in the NFL this season. He didn’t lose the job as much as Allen won it.
10. Patriots players return to the practice field today and tomorrow. They were off Saturday, as owner Robert Kraft hosted his annual before-the-season party for players and their families on Cape Cod. The Patriots will also practice Monday, before a day off Tuesday.