The New England Patriots will close out the 2012 NFL preseason against the same team that finished their season in 2011; the New York Giants. The kick-off time at MetLife stadium was moved from 7:30 p.m. ET to 7:00 p.m. ET, and it will be televised on WBZ-TV and 98.5 FM The Sports Hub.
Two burning questions leading up to the game is whether or not Tom Brady will play and if how much he will play if he plays. Bill Belichick has a difficult decision to make, but I believe Brady did say that he will not play against the Giants today on his weekly radio appearance.
Whatever the case, the onus will be on a few players who are fighting for a roster spot such as Dan Koppen, Eric Kettani, Justin Francis, Marquice Cole, and Jeremy Ebert.
I’ll get into some details on where those five stand, but first a look at the players who might not play today. Safety Patrick Chung plays, tackle Matt Kopa, offensive lineman Nick McDonald, Stevan Ridley, Visanthe Shiancoe, Brandon Spikes, Shane Vereen, and Tracy White could all be out for tonight’s game.
At this point, the fact that Brian Waters isn’t here yet greatly helps out Dan Koppen. What doesn’t is his lack of positional versatility, as the New England Patriots have three other players in McDonald, Dan Connolly, and Ryan Wendell who can play at center as well as other positions on the line. Koppen can only play the center position at a serviceable level, which means that the only way he is guaranteed a roster spot is if he can prove that he’s better than Wendell.
With Waters’s future with the team still in doubt, the fact of the matter is that Koppen would be gone if Waters came back. Connolly would play at center, and McDonald and Wendell are far more versatile backups. Koppen is a better center than McDonald, but this is the last chance for both Wendell and Koppen to try and snatch that starting center gig. If Wendell loses, he’ll still stay. If Koppen loses, he’s most likely gone.
Jeremy Ebert was the second player who benefited from the cuts of veteran wide receivers Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth. This is his final audition for a roster spot, and he can make it if the Patriots decide to go with six wide receivers. That still makes Ebert an “outsider” with a slim chance at making the roster, because I doubt the Patriots will keep six wideouts. It could happen, and it will likely happen if Ebert can impress the team in this game.
With Spencer Larsen out of the picture, the only player who has a hope of being the Patriots lone fullback in 2012 is Eric Kettani. He has impressed with his blocking in preseason games, but the problem is that the Pats have five running backs who are worthy of making the 53-man roster. Only one of those backs is in an uncertain position, and that is UDFA Brandon Bolden. While I have him over Kettani due to the fact that he is better and more versatile, you never know what can happen. It’s going to be a big game for both players, but especially so for Kettani who is outside the picture.
Defensive end Justin Francis was terrific in camp, but he showed us little in Friday’s preseason game. That said, he has upside and has a shot at making the Patriots final roster. What he needs to do is put it all together and deliver a solid pass rushing performance in this game. At this point, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette, and Trevor Scott are all better than him.
The last player of interest is Marquice Cole, who is coming off of a strong performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although he should have come away with a pick, he finished with six tackles, got his hands on two passes, and he was strong in coverage overall despite being targeted often. Cole is still behind Alfonzo Dennard in my mind, because Dennard has far more potential than Cole does; it’s an easy decision for me. What the real decision for the Patriots, in my mind, is whether or not to keep six cornerbacks on the roster and move forward with Cole.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.