On Friday, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio spoke about the importance of preseason games in the evaluation process of not only his own roster, but also the rosters of the other 31 NFL teams.
One critical factor executives and coaches will consider in building their roster is special teams contributions. Special teams account for roughly 20 percent of the snaps in a given game, and teams often rely on what are referred to as “core” special teams players to play primary roles on the punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return.
Keeping in mind that preseason games have not yet been played and that final roster cuts are roughly one month away, here is an overview of current Patriots who likely will need to have standout special teams contributions in order to make the roster. These players may log minimal snaps on offense or defense, but could nonetheless be cogs on the roster:
S Josh Barrett. Barrett’s massive frame makes him look more like a linebacker than a safety, and it also allows him to be a tenacious coverage player.
S Sergio Brown. The third-year defensive back played a limited defensive role in 2011, but struggled in coverage. His straight-line speed makes him an asset on special teams.
CB Marquice Cole. Cole was picked up in free agency and his impressive strength and athleticism have already shown up. He’s reactive, quick and tough. Keep an eye on him.
WR Britt Davis. A roster long shot, the big-framed Davis could become a factor as a gunner or on kickoff coverage.
S Nate Ebner. The rookie defensive back was a rock on special teams at Ohio State, and expectations are high from fans for him to be a special teams factor for the Patriots. He hit the field for practice for the first time on Friday.
FB Tony Fiammetta. He’s missed time early with an injury, and the exact role of the fullback in Josh McDaniels’ offense remains an unknown. If Fiammetta can find a landing spot on special teams, he could stick around.
WR Jesse Holley. Holley’s NFL career has featured special teams contributions for the Cowboys. He’ll need to show he can bring the same to New England in order to make the roster.
S James Ihedigbo. After playing a prominent defensive role in 2011, Ihedigbo looks likely to slide back into a special teams role this season. He has good size, strength and understanding of angles in open space.
FB Eric Kettani. Much like Fiammetta, Kettani has a better shot to stick with a special teams role than an offensive one, where the fullback position is somewhat of an unknown for now.
LB Niko Koutovides. The veteran was a special teams contributor in 2011 and has received reps on the top unit in the core special teams so far in camp. He has many of the traits coaches look for in special teamers.
LB Aaron Lavarias. Lavarias has good linear power and could be a disruptive coverage player. On defense, he appears buried on the depth chart.
LB Mike Rivera. Without any practice squad eligibility remaining, Rivera would need to make the active roster to stay with the Patriots, and given the team’s top-line depth at linebacker, special teams is his avenue.
TE Alex Silvestro. A project at the tight end spot, Silvestro has showed some physicality and wiggle in his routes.
WR Matthew Slater. An ace on special teams, Slater has tremendous straight-line speed and coverage instincts.
DB Ross Ventrone. Ventrone, who practically lived on the waiver wire in 2011, has spent time on the Patriots’ active roster as a special teams player.
LB Tracy White. Another veteran who played a key special teams role in 2011, he’s been absent from the field in recent practices.
DB Malcolm Williams. The tough-minded second-year player is active, physical and a good option to cover kicks and work as a vice on the punt return team.