COMMENTARY | Training camp is over. Half the preseason schedule is as well. The time for job auditions is dwindling for the New England Patriots.
By Aug. 27, the team's 90-man roster will be cut down to 75 men. And by Aug. 31, the "Turk" will be sent out once again to tell another 22 players that their coach wants to see them.
Only 53 men will remain come September. In light of that reality, here is the third installment of the 2013 Patriots' roster projection.
Quarterback (2): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Tom Brady has looked sharp this preseason, completing 90 percent of passes. And after a so-so performance in the preseason opener, No. 2 QB Ryan Mallett played his best NFL "game" versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2. Third-stringer Tim Tebow has improved in practice but regressed in games. Once thought to have a future in his own section of the playbook, or a read-option quarterback on the scout team, the odds of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' former first-round draft selection making the final 53 are shrinking. Tebow is just 5-of-19 for 54 yards and one interception this preseason.
Running Back (5): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden
Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen aren't going anywhere. Veteran returner Leon Washington has spelled into the lineup and also provided much-needed assistance on special teams. LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden may be vying for one spot. But from a value standpoint, it makes sense for New England to keep both downhill runners. Bolden carries more weight on special teams, however. George Winn is an undrafted back to keep an eye on. But he hasn't gotten many snaps this preseason and might be in consideration for the practice squad.
Wide Receiver (6): Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater
Danny Amendola is atop New England's young wide receiving corps, followed by training camp and preseason standout Kenbrell Thompkins. Behind Amendola and the undrafted Cincinnati rookie are second-rounder Aaron Dobson and fourth-rounder Josh Boyce. Both figure to take an expanded role as the year progresses, at the "X" and "Z" spots, respectively. Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater carry return and special teams importance, which will make it hard for Kamar Aiken to crack the team as a seventh wideout. Aiken, along with undrafted rookies Quentin Sims and Mark Harrison -- who's been injured -- could be practice squad candidates.
Tight End (3): Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui, Jake Ballard
Expect to see less two-tight end sets this season and more three-receiver sets. With that out of the way, Zach Sudfeld has earned the name "Studfeld" for a reason. The 6-foot-7-inch, 260-pound Nevada rookie is a can't-miss target with the quickness and receiving ability to serve as a flex tight end for the Patriots. Michael Hoomanawanui is not a spectacular receiving threat, but he is a quality blocker who can play fullback and catch the passes he needs to. Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells are likely striving to be third and fourth tight ends on New England's depth chart. But from a brass tacks perspective, Fells' salary is essentially twice as lucrative as Ballard's. One name missing from this list is Pro-Bowler Rob Gronkowski. Per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the "Y" tight end is a "huge stretch" to be ready for the start of the 2013 season following offseason back and forearm surgeries. The physically unable to perform list could be a destination for him.
Center (1): Ryan Wendell
Starting center Ryan Wendell logged more snaps than any player in the league last season, cites Football Outsiders. He is an unsung anchor -- with a prowess for run-blocking -- in the midst of the Patriots' offensive line.
Guard (4): Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline
Logan Mankins is a mainstay at left guard, while Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon are trying to be the same at right guard. Connolly and Cannon have been battling for reps on the interior, but both have been hobbled by injuries. If the Patriots had more offensive line depth inside, Connolly's costly contract could make him a cut-down casualty. It's not likely at this juncture, though. Look for Josh Kline -- a former wrestler and versatile Kent State product -- to make the team as a plug-and-play blocker.
Tackle (3): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek
Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are cemented as New England's offensive bookends. Former Atlanta Falcon Will Svitek has filed in as an offensive tackle and offensive guard this preseason, which bodes well for him. Second-year man Markus Zusevics could be best suited on the practice squad.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are entrenched as the starting defensive ends. Last year's undrafted Rutgers pick-up Justin Francis surpassed third-round pick Jake Bequette in the rotation as a rookie, and this preseason hasn't convinced many that the tides have changed for Bequette. With Ex-Cleveland Brown Marcus Benard playing off the edge and inside at defensive tackle, and high-upside seventh-round choice Michael Buchanan showcasing length and speed, Bequette and Jermaine Cunningham are on the bubble. Nevertheless, Cunningham -- who has been in and out of the lineup -- has flashed more than the Arkansas Razorback.
Defensive Tackle (3): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Marcus Forston
The Patriots' defensive tackle depth is thin behind one-technique Vince Wilfork and three-technique Tommy Kelly. Canadian Football League star Armond Armstead was thought to be the third man in the mix, but his surgery to treat an infection makes his timetable for return uncertain. For Armstead, the physically unable to perform list, non-football injury list or short-term injured reserve are all possibilities. Undrafted rookies Cory Grissom and Joe Vellano have done well in the preseason tilts, but second-year man Marcus Forston is the most game-ready defensive tackle in the fold right now. Grissom and Vellano could be practice squad call-ups.
Inside Linebacker (3): Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais
Brandon Spikes is tough to beat versus the run. Dane Fletcher is adept dropping back in coverage and on special teams. Rookie seventh-round pick Steve Beauharnais has impressed with his athleticism and familiarity on the "Big Four". All three bring something unique to the inside linebacker position.
Outside Linebacker (3): Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins
Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower return as the starting outside linebackers in New England's multifaceted 4-3 front seven. But not far behind in the pecking order is top draft pick Jamie Collins, whose size, strength and explosion are second to none. For the Patriots, Collins has played defensive end in a four-man front, outside linebacker in a four-man front and outside linebacker in a three-man front.
Cornerback (6): Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Ras-I Dowling, Marquice Cole
Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington are well encrusted as the top three cornerbacks in New England's stable. Third-round Rutgers rookie Logan Ryan -- who reminds some of Arrington -- and injury-prone 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling are the fourth and fifth corners. Dowling is a big question mark right now, as his strong spring regressed into a disappointing summer. With his leash very short, don't be surprised if Marquice Cole sneaks on as a sixth corner for his efforts on special teams, in the dime and in the nickel. Undrafted greenhorns Justin Green and Brandon Jones might be practice squad material.
Strong Safety (3): Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson
Ex-Arizona Cardinal Adrian Wilson, enigmatic rookie Duron Harmon and last year's starter Steve Gregory could all get the nod at strong safety. But unlikely to hear his name called is 2012 second-round pick Tavon Wilson, who has fallen out of favor through practices and the exhibition games. According to the premium statistics provided by Pro Football Focus, only two qualifying safeties have graded out worse this preseason than Wilson, who intercepted four passes and thrived in the "Money" role last year. Behind the younger Wilson is another 2012 draft choice, Nate Ebner. Despite his special teams triumphs and potential development as a safety, the onetime rugby player and Ohio State Buckeye walk-on is still learning the position.
Free Safety (2): Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory
Devin McCourty can play corner and free safety. And contrary to popular belief, he actually performed well at both spots last season. Second in command is Gregory, who is really more of a strong safety in a free safety's body. He's not spectacular, but the 30-year-old can step in, especially during sub packages. Undrafted Troy linebacker Kanorris Davis hasn't gotten much credit for his play on special teams this preseason. He is a practice squad contender that few are talking about.
Specialists (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken, Zoltan Mesko
No placekicking competition is in Foxborough, Mass., to challenge Stephen Gostkowski. And it is believed that Danny Aiken will hold off released-and-re-signed rookie Mike Zupancic for the long snapper gig. But unlike those two areas, the Patriots' punting battle between incumbent Zoltan Mesko and two-time Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen is fluid. Both have had their moments with distance, hang time and accuracy. Yet as Nick Underhill of MassLive.com notes, Mesko has gotten the ball off quicker. If Mesko is declared the winner, Allen will soon be as well -- on another NFL team.
Oliver Thomas is a Yahoo! contributor who also covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for NEPatriotsDraft.com. His work has been featured on BleacherReport.com, USAToday.com, Patriots.com, Boston.com and NESN.com.
You can follow Oliver on Twitter @OliverBThomas.
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