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Predicting the Patriots final 53-man roster

The Patriots have 18 cuts to make before 4 p.m. this afternoon to finalize their final 53-man roster. Here is the official Patriots Gab roster prediction, including the final five in, the final five out, and five key things we learned this preseason to start it off.

1. Fred Taylor is the Patriots starting running back, Sammy Morris will be used as the full back, and Kevin Faulk will occupy his traditional third down back duties. That leaves Laurence Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis as backup depth on the roster.

2. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez add a new dimension to the tight end position for New England. Gronkowski and Hernandez will also be key targets for quarterback Tom Brady in the red-zone as well. Both have the ability to split out into the slot and create matchup problems. Gronkowski is the more complete tight end, but Hernandez will see plenty of playing time.

3. The young secondary will be an issue if the pass rush doesn’t improve. The Patriots lost veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden for the season to a rotator cuff injury this preseason leaving second year man Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty as the teams starting cornerbacks. McCourty looks like the real deal, but he won’t be perfect. Safeties Brandon Merriweather and Pat Chung need to step up this season as well.

4. The outside linebackers and defensive ends on the roster might not be good enough. The personnel on the pass rush is not good enough, it will be tough for them to overcome it this season. Everyone was wrong about the Richard Seymour trade. The notion that the Patriots would be able to survive without Seymour was flawed, the Patriots haven’t found a way to replace his production. The loss of Ty Warren for the season is big as well. Its just my opinion, but the Patriots will have to find creative ways to get to the quarterback this season, there is no elite pass rusher on this defense.

5. Randy Moss is highly motivated in the final year of his contract. Wes Welker has made an incredibly quick recovery and appears to be ready for the regular season. The emergence of young wide receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate provide reason for optimism that the Patriots passing game will be much better or at least more diverse than last season. Patriots fans can expect a big season from Tom Brady in 2010.

Here is the official Patriots Gab final 53-man roster prediction: Comments and opinions are welcome/expected!

QB (2): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

RB (5): Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, BenJarvus Green-Ellis

WR (6): Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Sam Aiken

TE (3): Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Alge Crumpler

T (5): Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer, Mark LeVoir, Thomas Welch, Quinn Ojinnaka*

C/G (5): Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Dan Connolly, Rich Ohrnberger, Ryan Wendell

DL (5): Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright, Ron Brace, Myron Pryor

OLB (6): Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess, Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich, Pierre Woods, Marques Murrell

ILB (4): Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton, Tyrone McKenzie

CB (5): Devin McCourty, Darius Butler, Jonathan Wilhite, Terrence Wheatley, Kyle Arrington

S (5): Brandon Merriweather, Patrick Chung, James Sanders, Brandon McGowan, Sergio Brown

Specialists (3): K Stephen Gostkowski, P Zoltan Mesko, LS Jake Ingram

*Quinn Ojinnaka will not count against the initial final roster because of a one-game suspension he will serve Week 1. Which means this roster prediction includes 54, not 53 players.

Practice Squad (8): DE Brandon Deaderick, DT Kyle Love, TE Rob Myers, OL Ted Larsen, WR Darnell Jenkins, QB Zac Robinson, WR Rod Owens, WR Buddy Farnham

The Final 5 In:

S Sergio Brown: A true dark horse candidate for a roster spot, I personally love this rookie free agent out of Notre Dame. Bill Belichick said of Brown this weekend: “Sergio has made plays both in defense and special teams phases of the game,” he said. “He’s shown up from time to time in both phases of the game. I think that’s how a lot of his games have gone – he’s flashed some plays that really catch your eye, but there are things [he] needs to keep working on.” Brown was the only player to start on all four special teams units against New York, and will be a key special teams ace this season.

ILB Tyrone McKenzie: The second-year linebacker rebounded from an up-and-down preseason by playing on two top special teams units and leading the team with 10 tackles in the final preseason game against New York. McKenzie beats out core special teams performer Eric Alexander for one of the final spots on the roster.

OLB Rob Ninkovich: Made a strong case for a roster spot once again this preseason after shocking everyone and making the team last year. Ninkovich was disruptive throughout the final preseason game, finishing with seven tackles, including three for a loss, and one sack. Ninkovich is also a key special teams contributor playing on both kickoff and kick returns against the G-Men.

OG Rich Ohrnberger: A 2009 fourth-round draft choice, started at right guard against New York, and received a favorable review from Belichick, who said he did a “good, solid job playing against some good people in the early part of the game.” Ohrnberger, who looked to be on the roster bubble, may have saved himself with a strong showing in the final stretch.

OLB Marques Murrell: Murrell is the last man in on my roster prediction. He played on three special teams units against the New York Giants, and has been a standout this preseason. After spending a number of years with the Jets, and the lack of pass rushing threats on this defense he could have value this season in a number of roles.

Final 5 Out:

ILB Eric Alexander: The final cut in my opinion, Eric Alexander has been a critical special teams contributor for years, but is edged out the likes of Sam Aiken, Pierre Woods, Marques Murrell, Sergio Brown, and Rob Ninkovich who are special teams aces as well. Alexander will be the first man to get a call if the Patriots need to fill a roster spot in the future.

WR Matthew Slater: A jack of all trades on special teams, but a master of none. His surprising run comes to an end unless he is placed on IR.

DE Brandon Deaderick: Both Deaderick, a seventh round selection and undrafted rookie free agent Kyle Love will likely be the first ones signed to the practice squad, but they won’t make the final cut unless there is a surprise cut by the Patriots coaching staff, for example someone like Brandon McGowan, Terrence Wheatley, or Kyle Arrington.

OL Ted Larsen: Larsen was penalized a number of times this preseason, along with other reserves Mark LeVoir, George Bussey, and Quinn Ojinnaka. LeVoir will make the roster due to the injury to Nick Kaczur (who will go on PUP) and holdout of Logan Mankins, but Bussey and Ojinnaka will likely get the ax. Ojinnaka might stick through the final cuts because he doesn’t count against the final roster, due to a one-game suspension. Larsen and Bussey are eligible for the practice squad.

WR Rod Owens: Rookie wide receiver made a play for the practice squad with a 67-yard reception in the third quarter of the Patriots final preseason game. The play was the team’s offensive play of the preseason. Owens, Darnell Jenkins, and Buddy Farnham (who played on defense against New York) are solid practice squad candidates.

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