Closer look at options for 90th spot

June, 23, 2012
6/23/12
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With safety James Ihedigbo re-signed, the Patriots have crept within one spot of the maximum allowable total (90) for their roster during this part of the offseason.

There are a number of different directions the team could opt to go should it decide to sign a final player to its active roster, and here’s an overview of a handful of options that could make sense.

TIGHT END
With Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells managing injuries throughout the offseason, the Patriots will enter training with two of their three top tight ends working to shake off the rust (assuming both are on the field to start camp, which we still don’t know will happen with certainty). Beyond those two, the Patriots are currently carrying three other tight ends -- Aaron Hernandez, recently signed undrafted free agent Tyler Urban, and Jake Ballard, who projects to spend part of 2012, if not all, recovering from a major knee injury. The team briefly added Bo Scaife to the mix during OTA’s, and may opt to bring aboard another veteran to supply depth and competition.

ANDRE CARTER
Like Ihedigbo, Carter is amongst the free agents who were members of the Patriots in 2011 that have been speculated upon to return in 2012. We’ve tracked the interest from both sides throughout the offseason, and it seems as though a return from Carter could very well come to fruition as he progresses in his recovery from a quadriceps injury that cut short his lone season in New England (the team has yet to give out his jersey No. 93). Although the Patriots have beefed up their pass rush this offseason with the additions of high draft picks Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette, plus free agents such as Trevor Scott, Carter’s presence was impressive for the team in 2011. At 33, he brings a strong balance of veteran leadership and production to the locker room.

OFFENSIVE LINE
The Patriots recently released Mike Ingersoll, but that shouldn’t necessarily be taken as an indication that the team is feeling set across the line. Questions remain around the future of Brian Waters, as well as the health of both Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins. While the Patriots aren’t likely to find an impact lineman to add on the free-agent market, the team could target a developmental prospect with some versatility to fill in across a number of spots.

FOURTH QUARTERBACK
A surplus of arms is hardly a negative in training camp, as teams work to balance both divvying up reps and also curtailing the workload of some veterans. It seems plausible that the Patriots would arrange some rest for Tom Brady, which would open up opportunities for both Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Having another quarterback to round out the group would make some sense as well.

KEVIN FAULK
The veteran tailback has said that he’ll retire if the Patriots don’t bring him back into the fold. The Patriots are invested in a number of young runners, including undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden, who could make noise as the pads come on during training camp. A Faulk-New England reunion seems unlikely at this point.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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