COMMENTARY | The rookies have already reported. The veterans will soon be doing the same. In all, 90 New England Patriots are about to get training camp underway at Gillette Stadium.
And once Sept. 1 rolls around, the team will be whittled down to 53 men.
Those who are not part of that final group will either find themselves on the physically unable to perform list, injured reserve, the practice squad or out of a job.
Who could be in and who could be out? It's time for an early Patriots roster projection.
With Tom Brady entering his 14th NFL season and 2011 third-rounder Ryan Mallett entering his third, New England can afford to go two deep at the quarterback position. If that transpires, then high-profile third-stringer Tim Tebow is the odd man out.
Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen should work symbiotically in 2013. Former New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks third-down back Leon Washington adds value as a returner. And if the Patriots keep just four rushers, then second-year man Brandon Bolden, ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer LeGarrette Blount and undrafted University of Cincinnati product George Winn are expected to vie for that final spot.
Right now, the incumbent gets the slight edge. Winn will be a rookie to monitor in camp, due to his high-effort, downhill running style.
The Patriots have gone thin at wide receiver over the last few seasons due to the two-tight end set. Things have obviously changed this offseason, however. Although Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and special teamer Matt Slater are the only virtual locks, there's some surprise players in the fold.
Julian Edelman could see an expanded role, and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins and veteran Michael Jenkins impressed during the offseason program. Rutgers Scarlet Knight Mark Harrison could be a steal if he slips to the practice squad.
In turn, Jake Ballard assumes his "Y" tight end role for the interim. Undrafted Nevada target Zach Sudfeld sneaks into the No. 2 gig. Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui battle it out for the utility blocker job. And filling out the position is undrafted Clemson H-back and "Move" tight end Brandon Ford.
Center (2): Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald
Ryan Wendell led the league in snaps in 2012, also grading out at the fourth-best center, per Pro Football Focus . Behind him is the versatile Nick McDonald, who provides New England with a center, guard and occasional tackle. On the fringe is Penn State Nittany Lion Matt Stankiewitch, who could be a practice squad candidate.
Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly have experienced some injuries over the last couple seasons, which places emphasis on offensive tackle Marcus Cannon's conversion.
Tackle (3): Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Will Svitek
New England's two starting offensive tackles are set up for the long-term, which leaves veteran Will Svitek and former Iowa Hawkeye Markus Zusevics competing for the third spot as a swing tackle.
Six defensive ends may seem like a lot. But the importance of pass rush makes it hard to trim the group to five.
Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan will have a tough bout this preseason. None of whom are locks. They'll have to fend off unheralded ex-Cleveland Brown Marcus Benard and the Canadian Football League's Jason Vega, who are best suited as 3-4 outside linebackers.
The pass-rushing defensive tackle spot next to Vince Wilfork has been an uncertain one over the last several years. But the Patriots may have just found the right nucleus this offseason with onetime Pro Bowler Tommy Kelly and touted Canadian Football League pressurizer Armond Armstead.
Assuming the team carries four defensive tackles, that leaves last year's practice squad call-up Marcus Forston, as well as undrafted rookies Cory Grissom, Joe Vellano and John Drew duking it out. Gil Brandt of NFL.com slotted South Florida's Grissom as the top undrafted defensive linemen.
Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Spikes, a second-rounder out of Florida in 2010, stops the run. Fletcher, an undrafted free agent out of Montana State in 2010, stops the pass. Third in line is Rutgers rookie Steve Beauharnais, who brings intensity and a hard-working mentality to the position.
If this is the way the inside linebacker unit unfolds, then core special teamers Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian are on the outs.
Outside Linebacker (3): Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins
It will take a lot for journeymen outside linebackers Mike Rivera and A.J. Edds to make the Patriots. Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are all former first- or second-round draft choices who are expected to play big roles in New England's flexible front seven.
Cornerback (5): Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan
New England's top three cornerback spots seem to be in place. Starting left cornerback Aqib Talib was re-signed this offseason and so was nickelback Kyle Arrington. And as Ben Volin of The Boston Globe first reported, starting right cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will not be released by the team following his July 11 arrest for suspicion of DUI.
This leaves oft-injured 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling and rookie third-rounder Logan Ryan competing with special teams ace Marquice Cole, as well as undrafted rookies Brandon Jones, Stephon Morris and Justin Green.
Strong Safety (2): Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson
Five-time Pro Bowl Adrian Wilson brings an enforcer mentality to the strong safety position. And he should serve has another set of eyes for second-year man Tavon Wilson. Both are well secured on the roster, which makes it an uphill battle for former rugby standout, Ohio State walk-on and special teams extraordinaire Nate Ebner.
Free Safety (2): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon
Contrary to popular belief, Devin McCourty actually excelled at both cornerback and free safety last season. Regardless, his best fit with the rest of the secondary is in center field. Behind him is the enigmatic rookie Duron Harmon, a surprise third-round pick in April's draft.
Last year's starting strong safety Steve Gregory could be firmly on the bubble along with college linebacker Kanorris Davis.
Specialists (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken, Zoltan Mesko
It's hard to project anything groundbreaking here. All three specialists from last season should remain, while decorated Louisiana Tech punter Ryan Allen and Eastern Michigan long snapper Mike Zupancic are hard pressed to.
You can follow Oliver on Twitter @OliverBThomas.
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