After the New England Patriots waived injured linebacker Dane Fletcher, the scope turns to the fringe-roster players at the position on the team and how they are affected by the move. Fletcher is a key part of the linebacker corps, but his ACL tear means that he’s out for the year and the team elected to clear a spot on the 90-man roster. Putting Fletcher on waivers is risky, but it does help the LBs in a difficult position.
Let’s start with the two most obvious decisions. Veteran Bobby Carpenter is a lock to make the Patriots 53-man roster, because he’s an important coverage player. Sure he’s a first-round bust and can’t hit, but Carpenter has found his proper role on an NFL team thanks to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Run defense isn’t the only thing a strong-side linebacker needs to be good at, as coverage is a big part of the game. With his speed and coverage ability, Carpenter can shut down running backs and is solid against tight ends. A sub-package player before Fletcher’s injury, his role is much more important now. If Brandon Spikes gets injured again, then Dont’a Hightower will shift inside leaving Carpenter as the starter on the strong-side.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mike Rivera (not to be confused with the Boston Red Sox catcher) is the odd man out. He’s been on rosters for various NFL teams- including the Miami Dolphins- but he’s never actually played in an NFL game. It will take a lot of effort from Rivera to make the 53-man cut, but I would be surprised if he doesn’t make the practice squad. Keep in mind that he played well in the preseason opener, but the Kansas Jayhawks product will have to string together some big performances in order to make the cut. Aaron Lavarias, a former defensive end, is also on my cut list although he’s an obvious cut.
Tracy White is a player who isn’t exactly a good linebacker, but he’s a great special teams player and has experience at the age of 31. He is coming off of an injury and sat out OTAs, but he’s probably going to make the roster. The Patriots have a lot of good special teams players, and White isn’t making the roster on the merit at this time. It helps, but the injury to Fletcher helps White more than any other linebacker on this roster. He has 32 special teams tackles in the past two seasons, and Fletcher also had a role on special teams as well. I would have had White has a cut if Fletcher were healthy, but he is still in the mix right now.
Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian are both fringe-roster players who provide special teams value and are locked in a heavy battle to make the 53-man roster. Whichever of the two falls behind is out, while the other will likely make the roster. It’s too close to call at this point, and, as Bill Belichick said, this week of practices is as crucial as it gets. A slip in play or a rise from one of the two can dramatically change things.
At this point, Tarpinian looks like the best bet to make the roster. Koutouvides is a veteran who is more versatile, but Tarpinian is 24 years old, has more potential, and has looked better so far. He had a big preseason game with a team-high six tackles (35 snaps) and plays the run effectively. It’s extremely difficult to call and it depends on if you want youth over experience, but I think White (31) and Carpenter would provide enough veteran experience for the Pats.
In fact, Tarpinian is receiving more first-team looks in practice than Koutouvides. I’m all about youth and upside, and I also think that Tarpinian is simply the more productive player at this stage. He offers more as an actual linebacker, and he is a hard worker who has been catching the eye of the staff.
Who do you guys think will make the 53-man roster cut of the LBs?
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.
Topics: Aaron Lavarias, Bill Belichick, Bobby Carpenter, Boston Red Sox, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Dont'a Hightower, Jeff Tarpinian, Kansas, Miami Dolphins, Mike Rivera, New England Patriots, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White