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Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Special teams personnel notes

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the best ways a young player can earn a roster spot is to show up on special teams units.

Bill Belichick has often told the story about 2002 seventh-round draft choice David Givens. In his rookie year, Givens wasn't ready to contribute as a receiver from the get-go. But he was a factor on special teams, which led to him earning not only one of the team's 53 roster spots, but also a spot on the then-45-man game-day roster.

One thing led to another, and before long, Givens went from primarily a special teams-only contributor to emerging on offense as well.

With this in mind, here are a few notes I jotted down regarding special teams personnel in the Patriots' preseason opener, as they could tell us more about which players have an inside track for a roster spot:

1. Second-year safety Tavon Wilson was on the top kickoff return, kickoff coverage and punt return units. Because of that special teams presence, his spot is viewed as relatively safe from this viewpoint.

2. Ditto for second-year running back Brandon Bolden, who showed up on the top kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return and punt team units. That reflects his place as a "Big 4" player on special teams. A lot of chatter about how Bolden might be affected by LeGarrette Blount, but part of the reason why I still think he makes the club is his role in the kicking game.

3. Count linebacker Dane Fletcher as another "Big 4" player. While he wasn't the top option to join the first unit defense in Tuesday's practice with Brandon Spikes' absence -- that nod went to top draft pick Jamie Collins -- Fletcher remains a factor on special teams and has seemed to more than hold his own when given a chance on defense.

4. Rookie safety Duron Harmon (3rd round, Rutgers) showed up on the top kickoff coverage and punt team units.

5. Top draft choice Jamie Collins showed up on the top kickoff return, kickoff coverage and punt coverage units. He runs well.

6. Leon Washington served as the primary kickoff returner, with Julian Edelman the primary punt returner.

7. Receivers Kamar Aiken and Matthew Slater, along with linebacker Niko Koutouvides, were among those players showing up on multiple top units.