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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Patriots most affected by change

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- While there could always be minor tweaks in the coming weeks, the foundation of the Patriots' 90-man roster is set following the 2013 NFL Draft and rookie free-agent signings. It has been almost two months since veteran free agency and the 2013 league year began, and here is one view of returning players who could be most affected by the changes:

Safety Steve Gregory. A 14-game starter for the Patriots in 2012 (including playoffs), Gregory faces increased competition for that role, and possibly even a roster spot after the club signed veteran Adrian Wilson in free agency and then surprised many by selecting Rutgers safety Duron Harmon in the third round. Add in another year of development for 2012 second-round pick Tavon Wilson and the returns of Devin McCourty and special teamer Nate Ebner, and it's a more crowded depth chart this year. Still, Gregory is valued by the coaching staff for his smarts and steadiness and while he didn't show up much on special teams last year, that area could be one that turns out to be more important for him this year as it pertains to his value.

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling. The top pick in the 2011 second round (33rd overall), Dowling enters a make-or-break year after injuries derailed his first two NFL campaigns. The top of the cornerback depth chart appears to be locked in -- Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington -- and third-round draft choice Logan Ryan (Rutgers) is essentially assured a roster spot. So if everyone is healthy and playing up to the level that dictated the 2012 depth chart, Dowling projects to the No. 4-5-6 spot. His limited special teams contributions could make him expendable (if everyone's healthy), as that is an area in which Marquice Cole -- also vying for a roster spot at the position -- excels.

Defensive tackles Kyle Love/Brandon Deaderick. Co-starters next to Vince Wilfork in 2012, both face increased competition from the likes of veteran free-agent signing Tommy Kelly and CFL import Armond Armstead. Former practice squad lineman Marcus Forston is back, and the club has also signed rookie free agents Cory Grissom (South Florida) and Joe Vellano (Maryland). Both Love and Deaderick enter the final year of their contracts and they could be feeling some heat based on the added competition.

Defensive end Jake Bequette. The 2012 third-round pick out of Arkansas, who played sparingly as a rookie, is part of an "edge" group that was bolstered by second-round draft choice Jamie Collins and seventh-round draft pick Michael Buchanan. There is still some question as to where Collins fits, but the projection from this view is an edge-type role, which could have a trickle-down effect on someone like Bequette.

Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. The 2010 second-round pick out of Florida let the team down last year with a four-game suspension, which stunted some of the momentum he had generated at the time. Upon his return, he had been passed on the depth chart by rookie free agent Justin Francis. Now with Collins and Buchanan added in the draft, and projecting to an "edge" role, Cunningham has even more competition to contend with for playing time and/or a roster spot.

Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon. The biggest trickle-down effect for Cannon is position-based. With starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer re-signing, and the club also inking veteran swing tackle Will Svitek in free agency, this could bump Cannon inside to guard, where the Patriots could use a little more depth. Bill Belichick insisted last year that tackle was Cannon's best fit, and while Cannon is likely to work at both spots in training camp, maybe the thinking of his best fit changes this year based on personnel.

Wide receivers Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins. Both free-agent signings now project to No. 5 or 6 on the depth chart behind Danny Amendola, draft picks Aaron Dobson/Josh Boyce and Julian Edelman. Had the Patriots drafted just one receiver, the odds naturally would have been better for both of them to possibly stick on the roster. Now, assuming good health, there might be just one spot (if any at all).

Tight end Daniel Fells. Some might have viewed the seven-year veteran's hold on a roster spot tenuous, but with starters Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez dealing with medical issues this offseason, his value on the roster has seemingly increased.

Running back Brandon Bolden. With the Patriots acquiring LeGarrette Blount in a trade, the second-year power back faces added competition for early-down carries with him and starter Stevan Ridley. Bolden contributes most on special teams, which is where his primary value falls with a roster spot. Like Cunningham, his four-game suspension last season stunted his momentum and he wasn't as big of a contributor on offense upon his return. From this viewpoint, there is still an aspect of Bolden having to re-earn the trust of the coaching staff.