|Five players who are on the hot seat this offseason||04.21.12 at 12:51 pm ET|
On the heels of our post last week that detailed six players who are still in limbo as we near the midway point of the offseason — and keeping in mind that the offseason workout programs started this past week at Gillette Stadium — here are five Patriots who need a good offseason to help solidify their status before training camp rolls around in July.
Defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham – Bill Belichick fell in love with Cunningham as a collegian, but the Florida product has been underwhelming in his first two seasons in the NFL. There were occasional flashes as a rookie — he had 35 tackles and a sack in 15 games in 2010. But 2011 was forgettable for the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder, as he had just one tackle and spent most of the year on special teams. By the time he was placed on injured reserve in December with a hamstring problem, it marked the end of a disappointing year. He’s just 23, but he’ll likely find himself in a fight for a job come July. The former second-round pick is entering the third year of a four-year deal he signed with the Patriots as a rookie.
Defensive lineman Ron Brace – The 25-year-old has been plagued by injury and inconsistency in his relatively short career in the NFL. Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up several veteran defensive linemen before the start of the 2011 season, he showed some flashes last season, but never really managed to break through, playing just 62 snaps all year, according to Pro Football Focus. The 6-foot-3, 330-pounder is entering the final year of a four-year deal he signed as a rookie.
Safety Sergio Brown – The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Brown had issues, mostly in coverage, for a bulk of the 2011 season. (He had three crippling pass interference calls last year, and as a result, was assessed more penalty yardage — 86 — than anyone on the team.) After starting the year as a regular part of the rotation, he slipped down the depth chart, and didn’t play a single snap after Week 16 of the regular-season. Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up safety Steve Gregory, he could be helped by the fact that the safety market (in free agency and the draft) is pretty bad. A former undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, the 23-year-old is entering the third year of a four-year contract he signed as a rookie.
Running back Shane Vereen – The 23-year-old Cal product was slowed by a hamstring early on, and by the time he got fully healthy, the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder was buried so deep on the depth chart it was essentially a lost year when it came to playing time. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis departing as a free agent, he should get some opportunities to prove himself over the summer. (His opportunities in 2012 could be tied to whether or not the Patriots pick up a veteran free-agent running back: New England reportedly kicked the tires on Tim Hightower, Ryan Grant and Joseph Addai this past week.)
Safety Josh Barrett – The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Barrett is a relatively young safety who had four starts last season and was starting to play better, but fell out of favor as the year went on last season. (He went on injured reserve with a calf injury in November, and was dogged with a thumb injury along the way as well.) With some moving parts in the secondary — including the arrival of Gregory and the appearance of Devin McCourty as a part-time safety — Barrett needs a good offseason and to prove that he’s healthy in order to reclaim his spot in the defensive back rotation. This year marks the last season of a two-year contract the 27-year-old signed last February.
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