- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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During his day-after-game conference call on Thursday, Bill Belichick was asked if there was a number of quarterbacks with which he was most comfortable on his final 53-man roster.
In 2000, he carried four. The majority of years have had three. But in 2009-2010, there were just two.
Belichick gave a long answer to the question, which didn't necessarily focus on quarterbacks as much as the 47-player to 53-player range of the roster.
Essentially, what Belichick said was that the team keeps a handful of players at the back end of the 53-man roster who aren't projected to be part of the 46-man game-day roster at this time. The team then asks the question: What has to happen for those players to make the leap to the 46-man game-day roster?
It could be special teams. Perhaps an injury. Or it simply could be the development of the player, "because he’s just inexperienced and you feel like he’ll eventually be able to grow into that role."
Players at the back end of the 53-man roster are similar to those on the eight-man practice squad, with one big exception: They are protected from another team claiming them. In 2000, when the Patriots kept four quarterbacks (Bledsoe, Friesz, Bishop, Brady), the main reason was that they didn't want their No. 4 option -- Brady -- exposed to another team on the practice squad. They saw enough potential there.
That probably explains why we saw more of quarterback Ryan Mallett this preseason, with Belichick and the Patriots needing more information to answer the question: What has to happen for Mallett to make the jump from the 46-53 player range to the 46-man game-day roster?
With this being cutdown day (deadline: 9 p.m. ET), here is one view of players falling into the 47-to-53 range (or right over the edge):
1. QB Ryan Mallett -- The Patriots felt comfortable with Brian Hoyer to have him part of the 46-man game-day roster in each of the last three years as the No. 2 option. But as Belichick said after the game, Mallett is pressing the issue as the competition for the No. 2 spot is "tight." Mallett could be ready to graduate to the 46-man game-day roster, which could have a trickle-down effect on Hoyer ($1.9 million salary).
2. G/C Donald Thomas -- Fifth-year veteran should be on a roster this season, whether it's with the Patriots or elsewhere. Has proven capable when called upon to play in emergency situations and has played more at center of late, adding to his versatility.
3. C/G/T Nick McDonald -- After lining up at all five spots along the line in the preseason, and admirably filling in at center last season, he provides valuable depth. An arm/shoulder injury could affect his initial placement on the roster.
4. DE Jake Bequette -- Third-round draft choice from Arkansas hasn't hit the consistent stride of the three Patriots rookies drafted before him, but has flashed potential in practice. Almost was part of what could have been a costly 12-men-on-the-field penalty in preseason finale (field goal block team was on, not defense), which seemed to reflect a lack of awareness.
5. DE Justin Francis -- Rookie free-agent from Rutgers has produced more in preseason action than Bequette and has shown more versatility in terms of lining up inside in sub packages and also playing on the kickoff coverage unit in the preseason finale (shades of Mike Wright).
6. CB Alfonzo Dennard -- Seventh-round draft choice from Nebraska missed most of training camp/preseason with a hamstring injury and has been the subject of debate in ESPNBoston roster projections. Might have earned himself a spot in preseason finale.