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Rufus Johnson's notable play in preseason leads to Patriots going deep at DE

The Patriots probably will enter the season with only two QBs on the roster. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots concluded their preseason Thursday night against the Giants, and are already shifting gears to focus on the season-opener against the Steelers.

All teams must trim their rosters to 53 players by Saturday, but the Patriots will likely do so beforehand.

A final projection for the New England Patriots' roster:

QUARTERBACK (2):

Tom Brady

Jimmy Garoppolo

Ryan Lindley is the odd-man out, as the Patriots finally have clarity at the position after Judge Richard M. Berman's ruling to vacate Brady's four-game suspension. From the "did you know" department: This will be the sixth time in the last seven years (2011 the lone exception) that the team has entered with just two quarterbacks.

RUNNING BACK (4)

Jonas Gray

Brandon Bolden

James White

Dion Lewis

Beacuse of his one-game suspension, LeGarrette Blount doesn't count against the roster for first week. Travaris Cadet, who showed promise early in camp before injuring his hamstring, is a tough cut. Undrafted free agent Tony Creecy is also let go. Lewis, the four-year veteran, was one of the surprises of camp.

FULLBACK (0)

TIGHT END (4)

Rob Gronkowski

Scott Chandler

Michael Williams

Michael Hoomanawanui

This position is a bit heavier than the norm, in part because there is no fullback on the roster after James Develin (broken right tibia) landed on season-ending injured reserve. Asante Cleveland, who was acquired in a trade with the 49ers, is an ideal practice squad candidate.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)

Julian Edelman

Danny Amendola

Reggie Wayne

Brandon LaFell

Chris Harper

Might be way off, but a lack of chemistry between Aaron Dobson and Brady led me to make Dobson a bit of a surprise cut. Jalen Saunders, DaVaris Daniels and Zach D'Orazio also end up on the outside looking in. LaFell is an interesting case in that he remains on the PUP list, but if the Patriots think he could be back quicker than six weeks, he's worth holding a spot for.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4)

Nate Solder

Sebastian Vollmer

Marcus Cannon

Cameron Fleming

Clear-cut from Day 1 of training camp, the only issue is the health of Cannon, who has been in and out of the lineup in preseason due to an undisclosed injury. Chris Martin is the lone cut.

GUARD (4)

Ryan Wendell

Tre' Jackson

Shaq Mason

Josh Kline

With rookies Jackson and Mason still learning the ropes, keeping some experience around them (Wendell, Kline) seems like smart business. Caylin Hauptmann and Ryan Groy could be practice squad considerations.

CENTER (2)

Bryan Stork

David Andrews

Have been high on Andrews, the undrafted free agent from Georgia, since early in preseason. Won't be jumping off the bandwagon now, although he might slip through to the practice squad if the Patriots are looking to preserve spots. With Stork's injury history, an added layer of depth here might be smart.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)

Dominique Easley

Malcom Brown

Sealver Siliga

Alan Branch

Lot of promise with the 1-2 combination of Easley and Brown, the team's last two first-round picks. Siliga and Branch are bigger bodies who help on the interior. Casey Walker, Zach Moore and A.J. Pataiali'l are let go.

DEFENSIVE END (6):

Rob Ninkovich

Chandler Jones

Jabaal Sheard

Trey Flowers

Geneo Grissom

Rufus Johnson

As deep as it gets, and Johnson's combination of physical traits and upside have me going conservative from a standpoint of not taking the risk that he'd make it to the practice squad. Flowers looks like a fourth-round steal at this point and Sheard an impact free-agent signing.

OFF-THE-LINE LINEBACKER (4)

Jerod Mayo

Dont'a Hightower

Jamie Collins

Jonathan Freeny

Most challenging spot on the roster to project from a depth standpoint. So at this point, Darius Fleming, James Morris, Eric Martin and Xzavier Dickson all land on the outside looking in, as something has to give when so many defensive ends are kept. Those positions, in some respects, intersect anyway.

CORNERBACK (4)

Malcolm Butler

Tarell Brown

Bradley Fletcher

Logan Ryan

This group started to come into focus over the last week, with Butler and Brown the 1-2 combo in base, and then Fletcher coming on in sub with Brown moving inside. Meanwhile, Butler has been the constant at left cornerback. Let's see how it comes together, and depth can come in the form of Dax Swanson on the practice squad and Robert McClain on the emergency list.

SAFETY (6)

Devin McCourty

Patrick Chung

Jordan Richards

Duron Harmon

Nate Ebner

Tavon Wilson

That's a lot of safeties but when you are in sub packages more than 70 percent of the time, as the Patriots were last year, it can be justified. There is also a special teams consideration, and Richards, Ebner and Wilson have large roles in that area. Brandon King is a practice squad candidate.

KICKER (1)

Stephen Gostkowski

Arguably the best in the game, his right leg looks as strong as ever.

PUNTER (1)

Ryan Allen

The Patriots thought enough of him to award him with a three-year contract extension this offseason.

SNAPPER (1)

Joe Cardona

Rookie takes over the role and has shown up as a coverage player.

SPECIALIST (1)

Matthew Slater

A perennial Pro Bowler and team leader.