In the lead-up to New England Patriots training camp, with the first public practice scheduled for Thursday, it is time to review each position on the roster with our annual “roster locks” series. After highlighting the running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends, linebackers, defensive tackles, safeties, cornerbacks, offensive line and tight ends/fullbacks, let's wrap things up with the quarterbacks and specialists:
On the bubble: Danny Etling
Explaining the locks: In 2009, the Patriots took an unconventional approach by keeping just Brady and Hoyer on the roster, after Hoyer made the club as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State. That was risky, in a sense, because Brady was coming off a missed 2008 season (torn ACL). But the club made it through the season without a major injury at the position, and that is currently a topic to revisit because it shows how the Patriots are willing to have Brady and just an unproven youngster behind him. Although that history can't be ignored, I'm skeptical at this point that the Patriots would do something similar at this stage of Brady's career -- he turns 41 next week -- so Hoyer is viewed as a roster lock. I also like Etling's chances to stick on the roster, but put him on the bubble because there's always the chance that the club believes he could make it through waivers to the practice squad. The seventh-rounder from LSU fits a similar profile as Matt Cassel when the club drafted him in the seventh round in 2005.
Roster management: The Patriots traditionally keep just two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, but in years they've drafted a quarterback, they've kept three. More recent examples include Jacoby Brissett (2016) and Ryan Mallett (2011), who were given the opportunity to grow behind the scenes in their first seasons.
Stat of note: Brady has thrown touchdowns to 68 players in his career, two behind Vinny Testaverde's NFL-record 70 TD targets.
One thing to watch in camp: How many team repetitions Etling gets other than the "opportunity" portion at the end of practice. That should provide a snapshot of his progress.
Explaining the locks: There is no competition in camp for Gostkowski, who is viewed favorably by Patriots coach Bill Belichick for his work on both field goal kicking and kickoffs. The same goes for Cardona, who signed a four-year contract extension this offseason. Slater also returns as the special-teams captain. The real special-teams competition will be at punter, where Allen (sixth year) is facing a threat from Bojorquez, an undrafted free agent from New Mexico. Both are also holders on field goals, which is a significant part of the competition.