Examining open 53rd roster spot

On Tuesday, the Patriots placed wide receiver Donte' Stallworth on injured reserve and released veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. That shaved the active roster down to 51 players, and the team has since re-added veteran receiver Deion Branch.

That leaves one open roster spot for the team to fill, should it choose to do before hosting the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.

With two days of preparation already in the books, it seems unlikely that the team would add a player from outside of the organization, as he would have just one practice prior to taking the field for the Patriots. It isn't entirely out of the question, but a promotion from the practice squad would appear more likely.

Examining the Patriots practice squad, there are some intriguing options to round out the active roster.

Defensive lineman Marcus Forston. Forston played eight defensive snaps as part of the active roster earlier this season (Sept. 23 at Baltimore), but was subsequently waived and re-signed to the practice squad. Defensive tackle Ron Brace (elbow) has been limited in recent weeks, and was inactive in Week 14. The team could call upon Forston to add a big body to the defensive line rotation.

Wide receivers Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Ebert, and Tony Logan. The Patriots added Branch, but remain thin at receiver. Stallworth's injury last Monday night forced special teams captain Matthew Slater into more offensive action, and the team may feel the need to add one more target on a just-in-case basis. We have limited exposure to Aiken and Logan, and Ebert was around during training camp. Logan, signed just this week, would seem like the longest shot to be promoted because of inexperience with the team.

Defensive back Malcolm Williams. Williams spent time on the active roster earlier this season, and with Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard managing injury issues, he could be called upon to log some special teams snaps. Head coach Bill Belichick praised Talib's work as a vise on the punt return team in Week 14.

Offensive linemen Jeremiah Warren and Colin Miller. Because of injuries to Logan Mankins, Nick McDonald and Dan Connolly, the Patriots could choose to add depth to the interior of the line. Warren was a coveted undrafted free agent this past April. Miller would be a longshot based on just joining the practice squad last week.

Linebacker Jeff Tarpinian. Like Williams, Tarpinian spent time on the active roster earlier this season. He has experience both on defense and special teams, so while he has shown an ability to be used on the active roster, the Patriots appear to be in good shape in terms of linebacker depth.

A possibility remains that the Patriots will opt to stick with 52 players on their active roster, which although uncommon, is permitted. The team is only allowed to dress 46 players on game day, so if does not feel that there is a player available that would be able to contribute this Sunday night, it may simply stand pat.

We'll know for sure how the team plans to press forward by Saturday afternoon -- when the final waiver wire before their Sunday night game is released -- at the latest.