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Roster Analysis: New England Patriots

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Here is an in-depth look at the New England Patriots as they prepare for their season-opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS:

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Tom Brady. Backup - Ryan Mallett.

Brady had a great preseason, especially going 18 of 20 in his first two games. Despite a huge turnover in his weapons, he and the passing attack were impressive this summer. Mallett is back as the lone backup once again as the team sent Tim Tebow packing at final cuts. Mallett has shown slow improvement, but continues to have issues with his timing and accuracy heading into his third season.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Stevan Ridley. Backups - Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden.

Ridley and Vereen each had fumble issues at points this summer, but the young duo should be the core of the backfield. Ridley is coming off a 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown second season on which he hopes to build. Vereen is a unique weapon who could play all three downs and even lining up at receiver on occasion. Blount gives the team a big-body and insurance if Ridley can't pound out the 290 carries he had a year ago. Bolden has battled injuries this summer but the second-year undrafted player has the versatility to be a backup.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Rob Gronkowski. Backups - Michael Hoomanawanui, Zach Sudfeld, Matthew Mulligan.

Gronkowski opens the year on the active roster and not PUP after offseason back and arm surgeries. Many expect he'll be game-ready by mid-to-late September. Until then, the versatile Hoomanawanui, who worked as an extra tight end and fullback late last season, and the undrafted rookie Sudfeld will have to hold down the fort. Sudfeld is a soft-handed pass catcher who was one the talks of the team from spring practices on through camp. Mulligan should help the blocking in the running game.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins. Backups - Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater.

Amendola built immediate rapport with Brady as a free agent addition and will be the most consistent aspect of the passing game if healthy, which is an historic concern. Thompkins was a major surprise as an undrafted rookie. He earned the starting job by showing consistent route running solid hands and the ability to make catches all over the field. Edelman is a reliable backup and punt returner. Draft picks Dobson (second round) and Boyce (fourth) each had inconsistent summers. Slater is back as a core special teams guy, a role in which he was a captain and a Pro Bowlers.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer. Backups - T/G Will Svitek, T/G Marcus Cannon, G Chris Barker, C/G Braxston Cave.

New England returns its entire offensive line from a year ago, although Connolly is still working back from offseason shoulder surgery and didn't see much playing time this summer until the preseason finale. Mankins is the leader of the front and has voiced a desire for the unit to be more consistent and would like it to impose its will on talented defenses rather than just beating up on lesser fronts. Solder is coming into his own protecting the blind side in his third season and Vollmer is among the best right tackles in the game. Svitek is dealing with a knee injury, but the career tackle also showed the ability to play guard this summer and is the top backup. Cannon also shows position versatility but needs to work on his consistently. Barker and Cave were both claimed off waivers to add depth as undrafted rookies following the league-wide cut down to 53.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: DE Rob Ninkovich, DT Tommy Kelly, DT Vince Wilfork, DE Chandler Jones. Backups - DT Joe Vellano, DE Jake Bequette, DE Michael Buchanan, DT A.J. Francis.

The Patriots have an impressive starting front four, but depth is an issue. Wilfork is among the best in the game and has anchored the front the last couple years. Kelly is a veteran free agent addition who had an impressive summer. Ninkovich was the most consistent playmaker in the last two seasons. Jones had a great summer, put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and appears ready to take on a greater role as an impact playmaker. Vellano is an undrafted rookie who won a job in camp, while Francis was claimed off waivers after cuts to add depth. Bequette may have saved his roster spot with a late surge in preseason. Buchanan was impressive this summer and has unique length and burst off the edge. The backups are green and unproven.

LINEBACKERS: WLB Jerod Mayo, MLB Brandon Spikes, SLB Dont'a Hightower. Backups - MLB Dane Fletcher, SLB Jamie Collins, WLB Steve Beauharnais, WLB Chris White.

The situation at linebacker is similar to that of the defensive line. Mayo is a Pro Bowler and the leader. Spikes is a thumper in the middle who brings a contagious style and is coming off his best season. Like Jones, Hightower is a second-year former first-round pick looking to live up to expectations. He is versatile and can cover, rush and stop the run. Fletcher is back as a trusted backup and special teamer. Collins was the team's top pick, a second rounder with the athleticism to rush and cover. Beauharnais is an athletic rookie who could probably play all three spots in a crunch. White is a veteran special teamer claimed off waivers after cuts.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: LCB Aqib Talib, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory, RCB Alfonzo Dennard. Backups - CB Kyle Arrington, CB Marquice Cole, CB Logan Ryan, S Duron Harmon, S Tavon Wilson, S Nate Ebner.

Half of the secondary is set with Talib and McCourty. Talib is a talented cover corner whom the Patriots match up with top opposing targets. McCourty is set as a safety after starting his career as a Pro Bowl corner. Gregory is back in the starting role at the other safety spot after free agent signee Adrian Wilson struggled throughout the summer and ended up on IR. Dennard was solid down the stretch last fall as a seventh-round rookie, has legal issues pending that could land him in jail and/or with a league suspension. If he can't start, then Arrington will do the job. Cole is a veteran special teamer and backup in the slot who was cut and re-signed this past week. Ryan is a rookie who had his ups and downs this summer. Harmon and Wilson are both young safeties who played like it this summer. Ebner is purely as special teams guy.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Danny Aiken.

Gostkowski didn't have a great summer and tied his rookie season for his most missed field goals a year ago. But the team had no competition for him in camp. Allen beat out Zoltan Mesko for the punting job, sending the fourth-year former fifth-round pick packing. Allen is was a two-time Ray Guy Award winner at Louisiana Tech. He has a solid leg, but will need to improve on the situational kicking. He also serves as Gostkowski's new holder for field goals and PATs. Aiken is back for his third season in New England and has been solid for the most part.
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