The preseason is over, the roster cuts have been made, the practice squad has been assembled, and now the New England Patriots are officially on to Miami. With a week to go before the season opener, we now have a good idea of what the Patriots will look like when they take the field at Gillette Stadium this Sunday.
How does the team look? Are there still areas of concern heading into the season? While the Patriots do still have the look of a contender, there are certainly still question marks that may need to be addressed. Here are three position groups in particular that the Patriots might need to improve going forward.
Kicker competition continues?
By the end of the preseason, it appeared that veteran Nick Folk had a clear edge on rookie Justin Rohrwasser in the team’s kicking battle. Folk was far more consistent in practice, and when news broke Saturday that Rohrwasser had been released, it seemed as if Folk had the starting job locked up.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, the Patriots cut Folk too.
By the end of the weekend, the Patriots had re-signed both players to the practice squad, and now it appears that the kicker competition will continue into the first week of the regular season. There are a number of ways this could play out, but the most likely outcomes are the Patriots will place someone on injured reserve and elevate Folk or Rohrwasser to the 53-man roster, or the team could look outside the organization and bring in a new kicker entirely.
After decades of stability with Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski manning the kicking duties, this level of uncertainty surrounding the kicker position is unusual, and hopefully the Patriots will get everything squared away soon.
Receiver still a huge question mark
Throughout last season the New England Patriots consistently tried to improve their wide receiving corps with little success. Julian Edelman was terrific, but other than him the team was consistently forced to rely on players who were injured, rookies or both – to say nothing of the whole Antonio Brown fiasco.
Now? The situation remains pretty much exactly as it was at the end of last season. Julian Edelman is back, as are second-year pros N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, and Damiere Byrd has replaced Phillip Dorsett as the speedy veteran. Mohamed Sanu, who the Patriots hoped would shore up the passing game, did not work out.
Is this group good enough? On paper, no, but truthfully we won’t be able to say for sure until we’ve seen what a healthy N’Keal Harry can do with a full offseason of work. If he’s an impact player, if Edelman is still Edelman and if Meyers and Olszewski make strides in Year 2, then this group could work. But that’s a lot of ifs, and until we see otherwise, the passing game will remain an area of concern.
Have Patriots found tight ends of the future?
Since Rob Gronkowski left the Patriots, the team’s tight end situation has been dire. Last year New England got hardly any production out of its tight ends, but unlike with the wide receivers, the team did make addressing the position a point of emphasis in the draft.
Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene were each selected with third-round picks this past spring, and if their preseason performances were any indication, the two should get a chance to play right away in Week 1. Are they the answer? The last time the Patriots invested so heavily in the tight end position during the 2010 NFL Draft, they came away with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez — both of whom were uniquely talented, though obviously it turned out Hernandez had a lot of other issues.
New England should obviously hope that Asiasi and Keene will make a similar impact, but just in case it might not be a bad idea to try and bring in a more established veteran if a suitable player becomes available in the coming weeks.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.
Burt signed to practice squad
Former St. John’s Prep and Boston College star Jake Burt will remain with the New England Patriots as a member of the practice squad. The 6-foot-3 tight end from Lynnfield was among 15 practice squad players who were present at practice on Sunday afternoon. The full list of known practice squad members as of Sunday afternoon are:
RB J.J. Taylor
WR Isaiah Zuber
WR Devin Ross
WR Mason Kinsey
TE Jake Burt
FB Paul Quessenberry
DL Rashod Berry
DL Bill Murray
DL Nick Thurman
DL Xavier Williams
LB Terez Hall
LB Cassh Maluia
DB Myles Bryant
DB D’Angelo Ross
K Nick Folk
K Justin Rohrwasser