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With preseason games looming, these 10 Patriots face key week in their development

08.06.13 at 3:01 pm ET
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After almost two weeks of camp and with the first preseason game fast approaching, there are 10 candidates for a Patriots roster spot who have played well and bear watching when the ball is kicked off Friday night against the Eagles. For many on this list, it will be their first exposure to the stresses that come with professional football, and if they are able to handle the speed and pace of the game, it will be another sign that they’ll be able to succeed in the New England system. For the new vets, Friday will provide an opportunity to show just how well they are doing when it comes to picking things up. Regardless of whatever situation the player is in, the preseason opener will provide another layer of insight into their professional development as part of the Patriots.

Tight end Zach Sudfeld – The Nevada product has opened eyes by showing a nice set of hands and appearing mostly comfortable while running with the starting offense on a number of occasions. While there have been some rookie moments, he’s played well enough to give the Patriots a bit of a problem — he’s probably doing too well to risk exposing him to waivers and getting him through to the practice squad, but there’s still a question as to whether he’s NFL ready. We’ll know more about that Friday night.

Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins – Like the rest of the team’s skill position youngsters, he’s played well in camp. There have been some struggles — the in-stadium workout is one he’d like to forget — but he showed a nice level of mental toughness by being able to bounce back from that outing and string some nice practices together. He (and the rest of the young receivers) have had plenty of opportunities through the first week-plus when it comes to practice reps. Now we’ll see how that translates to game action.

Wide receiver Aaron Dobson – Dobson is going to draw plenty of attention Friday night for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that, at least to this point, he’s been the steadiest and most consistent rookie the Patriots have had on the offensive side of the ball. Like Sudfeld, Dobson has an impressive catch radius and terrific leaping skills, and with Rob Gronkowski on the shelf, he could evolve into an intriguing red zone possibility. We’ll know the trust between Tom Brady and Dobson is at a pretty good level if the quarterback sends a jump ball his way in the preseason opener.

Running back LeGarrette Blount – Blount has gotten lost in the wash a little bit, but when the team has been in pads and been working in goal-line situations, he’s gotten some good work. Beyond Stevan Ridley (and probably Shane Vereen), the running back picture is a little muddled. A good night from Blount — combined with a willingness to continue to work on special teams — would bode well for this former 1,000-yard rusher.

Quarterback Tim Tebow There’s an odd fascination as to what Tebow might be able to bring to the field, and with the Patriots not tipping their hand as to what might happen with Brady when it comes to playing time in the preseason opener, it stands to reason that Tebow will at least see a handful of snaps under center. There’s no question he’s struggled (he’ll still tuck and run when he takes part in 7-on-7 drills) and showed some inconsistency (for every eight bad throws, there are two excellent ones). But from a pure practical perspective, it will be interesting to see what he could bring as the third-string quarterback.

Defensive end Marcus Benard – The veteran free agent out of Jackson State who was cut by Cleveland last fall has opened some eyes, showing a real feistiness in one-on-one battles with some of New England’s finest offensive linemen. The 6-foot-2, 260-pounder who led the Browns with 7.5 sacks in 2010 could gain some separation from the rest of the backup defensive end candidates like Justin Francis and Jake Bequette if he continues to trend in the right direction.

Defensive tackle Marcus Forston – With Armond Armstead facing a murky future because of recent surgery, the Patriots suddenly are a little thin at defensive tackle, and the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder who spent part of last season on the practice squad has taken advantage of the opportunity. Working alongside and in relief of presumed starters Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, the University of Miami product has shown a good stoutness while getting significant reps with the starting defense. As with Benard, a good game against the Eagles and continued good work in camp could separate him from the rest of the backup candidates along the interior.

Cornerback Logan Ryan – With the recent injury to Ras-I Dowling, it appears that Ryan has been bumped up the depth chart, and if Dowling isn’t able to go Friday, Ryan should see significant snaps with the No. 2 and No. 3 defense in his first professional action. He’s been beaten deep on occasion throughout the first week-plus of camp, but he remains a work in progress, and it will be interesting to see how much (if any) Philadelphia might try to go long on him.

Linebacker Jamie Collins – The second-round pick out of Southern Mississippi has flashed versatility and athleticism in his first 10 days in an NFL training camp, working in a variety of positions and showing he has a good nose for the ball by forcing some takeaways. It remains to be seen where he’ll find a spot — on the edge, as well as multiple linebacker spots and working in pass coverage — but it’s growing increasingly clear that he’ll be on the field on a regular basis sooner rather than later. His next challenge will be to see if he’s ready for the speed of game action, but from what we’ve seen, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Punter Ryan Allen – Last year’s Ray Guy Award winner has looked good in camp, and he could be pushing incumbent Zoltan Mesko for a job. While our last roster projection had him ticketed for the practice squad, he’ll certainly get his chance to show what he can do at the NFL level Friday night.

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, LeGarrette Blount, Ryan Allen
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