Foxboro, we have football.
After a spring and summer filled with 28-to-3 references, the Patriots are officially focused on 2017. It may be only a preseason game, and the results may be meaningless, but each snap over the next four weeks matters to players trying to crack a deep New England roster.
I’ve seen several players-to-watch-tonight articles today, but this one I hope is somewhat different. As always in my Y Factor posts, I’ll be looking into the back of the roster at players not only on the fringe of the roster but who might be able to sneak onto the practice squad with a good August. Here are my five picks for tonight.
K.J. Maye, WR: The literal 90th man on the roster, signed to replace the retiring Rob Ninkovich, Maye is a second-year slot receiver whose first year was spent on scout teams. With Devin Lucien and Austin Carr the men who are considered the most likely longshots (oxymoron, I know) to make the team, much less thought is being given to the players behind them. But Maye has made some impressive plays in his short time at camp and has received some opportunities as a returner. Despite his minuscule roster chances, a solid preseason could lead to the Patriots keeping Maye as one of their practice squadders, particularly if a cut receiver is claimed by another team.
Brandon Bolden, RB: It may be easy to forget, but Bolden was once used serviceably in the Patriots’ backfield, a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none style running back. With the emergence of LeGarrette Blount and James White last year, Bolden rarely saw the field except on special teams. When Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee were signed this offseason, Bolden’s exit seemed certain. But the sixth-year (!!!) back is still a Patriot, back on a one-year deal, and with Gillislee not expected to play, Bolden may see some time in the backfield. Any offensive production could be considered a bonus, but it might mean the well-liked Bolden could stick around Foxboro a little longer.
Adam Butler, DT: Butler is one of those guys on seemingly every who-to-watch list, and with good reason, as his interior rushing has stood out in recent practices. While I am intrigued by how Butler performs and if he is able to make the team, I also want to see how he is used on the defensive line. Butler did not play exclusively on the defensive interior at Vanderbilt, and if New England’s coaches decide to move him around (and he plays well enough to make the team), it could make a roster spot for another position, particularly defensive end, expendable.
Conor McDermott, T: Feel free to add Cole Croston and Max Rich in this paragraph too. With Nate Solder expected out, backup tackles Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle -neither of whose name in the lineup impresses – are projected to see a sizable share of snaps tonight. But the battle for fourth tackle is still open, and not much has been said throughout camp about sixth-round choice McDermott or UDFAs Croston and Rich. Any one moment for any of these players could swing momentum in this position battle, one worth following through the rest of the month.
Cyrus Jones, CB: Last preseason, when Jones was the Patriots’ first draft pick with high expectations, seems long ago. After a 2016 filled with muffed punts and an inability to see the field, Jones has not thus far staked a claim on the open fifth cornerback spot, having been passed by Jonathan Jones. With UDFA Kenny Moore II turning heads this offseason and Justin Coleman also in the competition, Jones’ grasp on a roster spot may be more tenuous than his second-year second-round pick would historically suggest. But with games to be played, passes to be defended, and kicks to be returned, neither should Jones be written off yet.