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Bubble Watch, Part 2

08.18.10 at 12:34 am ET
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With each passing day — and with a move to injured reserve here, a waiver move there — elements of the Patriots’ 53-man roster are starting to come into sharper focus. But while some of the answers to our first series of players on the bubble have been resolved, other questions still remain. With that in mind, here’s the second edition of what will become a semi-regular feature: Bubble Watch. (Just a reminder — this list isn’t for back-of-the-roster unknowns, but for veterans who have made some sort of contribution in their time with the Patriots.)

Sam Aiken: Things have gotten a little easier for the wide receiver now that Torry Holt (season-ending injured reserve) and David Patten (retirement) are out of the picture, but with the continued emergence of the younger receivers and what appears to be a diminished role on special teams, Aiken could still be fighting for a job when cutdown day comes around. (Things could really change for Aiken on special teams this year — Pat Chung is being used more and more as the punters’ persona protector. Last season, that was Aiken’s job.) Last year’s special teams captain, Aiken’s spot on the team is almost certainly tied to how many running backs the Patriots keep on their roster — if New England decides to hold on to both Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, then Aiken could be on the outside looking in come Week 1.

Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis: That leads us nicely into our next pair of players who might be on the bubble. If Aiken is kept as an extra receiver (and considering that the Patriots are a stone-cold lock to keep all three tight ends), then here’s where the cuts would likely come, and it stands to reason that these two most game-ready backs who are the lowest on the totem pole at this point. Based on how the running backs played in the preseason opener — Green-Ellis got the start — you would think that the Ole Miss product might have an edge. But there’s a danger in reading too much into the first preseason game. This situation certainly bears watching as the preseason continues — if Green-Ellis gets the same amount of snaps against the Falcons and Rams as he did against the Saints, then that’s another matter altogether.

Eric Alexander: As much as it pains me to say this — he’s one of the nicest guys in the locker room — this could be the end of the line in New England because of a numbers game. (We will always have the 2006 AFC Championship Game…) With the continued emergence of the younger and faster inside linebackers (Brandon Spikes, Tyrone McKenzie, Gary Guyton, the versatile Thomas Williams) and the ability of several other linebackers who have roughly the same skill set in the special teams game (Pierre Woods, Rob Ninkovich), it could mean that Alexander is out of a job with the Patriots by the end of the preseason.

Terrence Wheatley: The cornerback made it awful hard to keep him on this list with his play of late — a renewed physicality has shown up on the radar more than once, and the heads up play he made preventing a touchdown in the preseason opener was the sort of play the Patriots have been looking for on a consistent basis out of him since he was drafted out of Colorado in 2008. But with more and more play given over to youngsters like Devin McCourty and Darius Butler, it’s becoming increasingly evident that Wheatley is still a ways down the depth chart. One intriguing possibility was suggested by mloyko54 on Twitter — Wheatley could be traded.

Ron Brace: He took a step in the right direction this week just by returning to the field, but his long-term status with the team remains in doubt, so he stays on the list, at least for now. But it’s important to remember that no matter how bad things might get for Brace this year, it remains highly unlikely the Patriots would cut him — they waited two years before they released Chad Jackson, after all. And Brace’s pedigree and lack of experience along the defensive line make it likely that the numbers are in his favor, at least right now.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Eric Alexander, Ron Brace, Sam Aiken
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