Bubble Watch: James Ihedigbo

(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2012.)

NAME: James Ihedigbo


AGE: 28

2011 STATS: 16 games (12 starts), 69 total tackles, 1 pass defensed

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries


WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: In December, Patriots coach Bill Belichick singled out three of the team's 2011 free agent acquisitions whose contributions he "appreciated" last season. Ihedigbo was among them, with Belichick calling him a "real good addition" while going on the laud the professionalism and leadership of Ihedigbo, guard Brian Waters and defensive end Andre Carter. An August signing who became an unexpected contributor, Ihedigbo started 12 games last season, but his role would likely be scaled back in 2012, following the additions of Steve Gregory and Tavon Wison at safety. However, that may not be a problem for Ihedigbo, who was signed mostly as a special teams player and could earn a spot this season in a similar capacity.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: Ihedigbo's playing time last season came only after the team underwent a number of personnel changes at safety, most notably the release of veterans Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders. While Belichick seemed to have high marks for Ihedigbo's fill-in performance, the Patriots also went into free agency looking for, and signing, a safety (Gregory), while adding another in the second round of the draft (Wilson). This pushes back Ihedigbo to, at best, a fourth safety role, at least initially and on paper. There still may be room for a fifth safety, but if the team opts to keep only four at the position, sixth-round pick Nate Ebner could earn that role if he emerges as a force on special teams.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: S/CB Will Allen, S Josh Barrett, S Sergio Brown, S Nate Ebner