FOXBORO -- There are 90 players on the Patriots roster at the moment. If you're like most consumers of Patriots media, there's no way you can name them all. And that's OK.
But tonight marks the first preseason game of 2016 for Bill Belichick's club, and inevitably there will be a heretofore unknown who will put together a performance that make you sit up on your couch, raise an eyebrow and say, "This guy's a player!"
With that in mind, here are five names who may be unfamiliar to you for only a few more hours...
DeAndre Carter, WR: This 5-foot-8, 190-pound receiver has stood out in training camp despite his diminutive stature. He's shown good quickness, an ability to create separation with his route-running, and the quarterbacks seem to trust him with throws in traffic. Carter was signed to the Patriots practice squad in December and then re-signed on a future deal in the offseason, giving him a bit of a head start on some of the team's other new wideouts when it came to grasping the playbook. Belichick said recently that Carter, who was an All-American at Sacramento State in 2014, has a "Troy Brown type of build" and can compete both on the outside and in the slot.
"He’s done well," Belichick added. "He’s a good kid, he works really hard, has some return ability. Has pretty good playing strength for his size. He’s a shorter player, but he has some playing strength to him, so that compensates for it a little bit. He’s continued to kind of impress us as he’s gained more experience and really is a hard-working kid and a great kid to have on the team."
Rufus Johnson, DE/OLB: The Patriots appear to be very deep on the edge with Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich (out with a torn triceps muscle), Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom all competing for reps. But don't forget about Johnson, who may have briefly grabbed your attention right around this time last year. He recorded two sacks, four quarterback hits and two pass breakups during preaseason play last summer and made the 53-man roster, but he was later placed on the reserve/non-football injury list, ending his season in October after dealing with an illness.
The 6-foot-5, 280- pounder was lauded by Belichick last season, who said Johnson "has a lot of things going for him." Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said last year that Johnson is "explosive, he’s long, he’s strong and he can create some problems for an opponent just with his combination of skill set."
Jonathan Jones, CB: Seemingly every year there is an undrafted rookie free agent who turns heads in training camp and ends up making the team. Last year it was center David Andrews. Two years ago it was corner Malcolm Butler. This year it could be Jonathan Jones. He's had up-and-down moments in camp thus far, but he's in competition for a potential roster spot that seems to have no clear-cut favorite at the moment. Jones, Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, V'Angelo Bentley, Cre'Von LeBlanc and EJ Biggers are all candidates to join Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Cyrus Jones in the cornerback meeting room this fall. What could help Jonathan Jones separate himself is his speed -- he ran a blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine -- and a level of toughness that belies his 5-foot-9, 190-pound frame.
"He’s a tough kid," Belichick said recently. "We saw that at Auburn. He tackled well. I’d say he plays big for his size, he’s not afraid, he’s a tough, competitive kid that’s willing to support in the running game and in the kicking game, very competitive on the ball. Again, his speed and overall awareness puts him in position to have the opportunity to play some balls. That’s half the battle right there, being in position to do it. He’s been very competitive on the ball and shown good speed, good toughness, as he did in college."
Ted Karras, OL: For those of you who geek out at the sight of old-fashioned offensive line play -- and I know you're out there -- keep an eye out for No. 75. The sixth-round pick out of Illinois has already shown a propensity for finishing plays with an edge and we haven't even seen him in a live game situation yet.
He's seen work at right guard with the first team with Jonathan Cooper out, and he served as a backup center when Bryan Stork was unavailable. He's even seen a handful of snaps at tackle. By the time the regular season rolls around, Karras could be the type of player the Patriots trust to sub in at two or three different spots in an emergency situation. He may not be quite as ready for starter reps as fellow rookie Joe Thuney, but there's value in what Karras brings to the table.
Markus Kuhn, DL: When the first-team Patriots defense has taken the field during training camp, all the familiar faces have been there: Butler, Ryan, Ninkovich, Sheard, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Malcom Brown. Oftentimes right next to Brown, however, has been a more unfamiliar figure at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, and with long hair flowing out of the back of his helmet. That's Kuhn, the team's other German-born player who signed with the Patriots this offseason after being released by the Giants. Now that Alan Branch is back in the fold, Kuhn has jostled for reps with him as well as with Terrance Knighton and rookie Vincent Valentine, but he seems to be a player for whom the Patriots want to provide a legitimate opportunity. He's 30 years old, but because his collegiate football career at North Carolina State began late after he arrived from Europe, Belichick believes Kuhn is still improving.
"Markus is a young player in terms of experience," Belichick said earlier this week. "He’s a little older [in age] because of his situation, but a young player that’s still getting better. Works hard, smart, a good, tough kid. He has good playing strength. He played well for the Giants. We played against him last year and evaluated him prior to our game and also in our game. He’s very competitive out there with that group . . . The contact certainly in terms of the offensive and defensive lines is something we’ve seen a lot more in training camp, but it’s a little bit different in the game so we’ll see how that goes for everybody."