COMMENTARY | It's the calm before the storm for the New England Patriots.
Organized team activities are getting underway at Gillette Stadium. And once those preparations come to a close, head coach Bill Belichick will be out fishing on his boat "V Rings" until training camp starts in July.
But for some Patriots, there is no calm before the storm; it's already arrived.
By now, it's clear that no player -- aside from perhaps quarterback Tom Brady and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork -- has their spot guaranteed.
There are roles and jobs to be won. There are also 90 men on the roster vying to do so.
So with the 2013 campaign looming, who's under the most pressure?
Here are six Patriots of note.
6. Shane Vereen, Running Back
New England spent a second-round draft selection on California tailback Shane Vereen in 2011, then Louisiana State tailback Stevan Ridley a round later. To this point, the lower draft choice has outperformed the higher one, which means 2013 will be a big year for Vereen.
A 5'9", 205-pounder, Vereen played in five contests as a rookie, recording a modest 57 rushing yards and one touchdown. During his second season in Foxboro, Vereen got off to a slow start but still played in 13 regular season games, accumulating 251 rushing yards, 149 receiving yards and four total touchdowns. His breakout game came in the AFC Divisional Round versus the Houston Texans, when Vereen notched one rushing touchdown and two receiving touchdowns -- amassing 124 total yards.
The 24-year-old looks poised to handle a bigger role in the offense, and he'll have to. New England's third-down back since 2010, Danny Woodhead, is now playing out in San Diego.
Vereen's sure hands and burst make him an excellent all-purpose option. He'll just have to stay healthy and be consistent.
5. Steve Gregory, Safety
Former San Diego Chargers defensive back Steve Gregory was brought in last year to add depth to the safety position. Often paired next to free safety Devin McCourty, Gregory started 12 games at safety and registered 37 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
His production stood out, although his blunders in coverage and tackling in the open field did as well. A former special teamer with substandard size at 5'11", 200 pounds, Gregory may be better suited for a role in sub packages moving forward. That said, the 30-year-old will have to make the team first.
According to Spotrac.com, Gregory has two years and over $5 million left on his contract with New England. He is also one of many vying for a job at strong safety. The list includes 2012 second-round draft choice Tavon Wilson, 2012 sixth-round draft choice Nate Ebner, veteran Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson and 2013 third-round choice Duron Harmon.
Needless to say, it will be a big camp for Gregory.
4. Marcus Cannon, Offensive Tackle
When the Patriots took a chance on Texas Christian blocker Marcus Cannon in Round 5 of the 2011 NFL draft, it was both a feel-good story and a high-value pick. Cannon, a highly touted 6'5", 340-pounder, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma during the draft process.
His career in New England began on the Non-Football Injury list as he recuperated from his chemotherapy treatment, but he fought back and played in seven games as a rookie as a backup and on special teams. Cannon was named the 2011 Ed Block Courage Award winner for his perseverance.
In 2012, Cannon played in all 16 games, starting one at right tackle in place of the injured Sebastian Vollmer while also spelling in as a tackle-eligible tight end. Nonetheless, his season was a quiet one. The jury is still out on whether he has the footwork and quickness to stay on the edge, or if he should kick inside to play guard.
New England's starting bookends are well situated, so Cannon niche on the line has yet to really be found.
3. Jake Bequette, Defensive End
Jake Bequette, New England's third-round draft choice a year ago, essentially "redshirted" as a Patriots rookie. The 6'5", 265 pound Arkansas Razorback saw work in just three games and logged a grand total of 29 defensive snaps, cites FootballOutsiders.com. He did not collect any tackles.
Bequette was eclipsed on the depth chart by fellow rookie Justin Francis, an undrafted end out of Rutgers. As a result, there is some concern as to why a pass-rusher who tallied up 23 sacks over his college career has taken a while to acclimate to the pros.
There is still time for the 24-year-old Bequette, but the defensive end position isn't getting any less crowded. He'll have to make a statement in order to find a spot in the rotation.
2. Jermaine Cunningham, Defensive End
The Patriots nabbed Florida edge-rusher Jermaine Cunningham in the second round of the 2010 draft. The 6'3", 260-pounder flexed between outside linebacker and defensive end during his first two seasons in New England. We've seen a mixed back of flashes and fizzles.
No. 96 started 11 of 15 contests at 3-4 outside linebacker as a rookie, earning 34 total tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles. That promising start was slowed by scheme change. In his second year, Cunningham moved to 4-3 defensive end -- where he played at Florida -- and the results weren't there. He made one tackle in all of 2011 before being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury after nine games.
Year three was pivotal for Cunningham. He played like it was, too. Initially considered a bubble player in camp, Cunningham was able knife into the backfield enough during the preseason to stick around. He reeled in 2.5 sacks and even filtered in at defensive tackle.
In late November, however, Cunningham was suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. His season and his responsibilities dwindled as a byproduct.
The 25-year-old Cunningham is in the final year of his rookie deal and is due $960,000, per Spotrac.com.
1. Ras-I Dowling, Cornerback
Ras-I Dowling's first name ends with an 'I' and begins with an 'R'. Unfortunately, that's also where his first two NFL seasons have concluded.
The No. 33 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Dowling was regarded as a big 6'1", 210-pound Virginia product with the physicality to battle tall receivers. He was also regarded as a man with some injury woes.
He was put on injured reserve with a torn hip tendon after starting the first two games of 2011. He was put on injured reserve again in 2012, this time with a torn quadriceps after playing as a backup in seven games.
Two years. Nine games. 10 tackles. One pass deflection.
The stakes are high for Dowling as 2013 draws near. He seemed to work his way out of Belichick's favor last season, getting subbed out for former undrafted corners Sterling Moore and Marquice cole.
Dowling is facing an uphill climb. But if he can stay off the trainer's table, then that's half the battle for the 25-year-old. He's got the tools to aid the secondary.Oliver Thomas is a Yahoo! contributor who also covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for Bleacher Report and NEPatriotsDraft.
You can follow Oliver on Twitter @OliverBThomas.
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