Bubble watch: Patriots WRs Dorsett, Harris, Berrios need a good night
FOXBORO — The Patriots will take the field for their third preseason game Thursday night, which is important in and of itself. Starters will go up against starters. It'll be our first opportunity to see new Patriots play live snaps against good competition. That matters.
But the timing of the third preseason game means there are decisions that are coming. Releases. Trades. Who's in. Who's out. That means Thursday's game at Gillette Stadium will be one of the last opportunities players have to make a good impression on Bill Belichick and his staff. That matters.
Here are a handful of Patriots who appear to be on the bubble who could benefit from a nice performance against Carolina . . .
His value is in his experience. His value is in the fact that the Patriots know what they're getting from him. But . . . the Patriots know what they're getting from him. He's best suited as a No. 3 or 4 receiver for a team that has question marks at that position from the No. 2 spot on down. How's he used Thursday? When is he playing? What does he do with his opportunities? Is he playing at all after suffering an injury during practices with the Titans?
Like Dorsett, Harris is a veteran receiver who has been one of the more dependable receivers on the roster during camp. But has he done enough to hold off others with more impressive NFL resumes — namely Dorsett and Demaryius Thomas, who was activated off of the physically unable to perform list this week? Harris has also been injured lately and it's unclear how much he'll play against the Panthers. If the Patriots roll with Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon (NFI), N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, there might only be one more spot for a wideout on the 53-man roster.
The Patriots wanted a slot receiver this offseason. They went after Adam Humphries and Cole Beasley. They didn't get either. That seemed to clear a path for Berrios to make the team. But his camp has been a little bit up-and-down — tough start, impressive work in Detroit and at times in Tennessee — and if Meyers is used as a slot presence, then his job security is worth questioning. What helps Berrios is that he has punt-return ability. It'd make sense for the Patriots to try to take those duties off Edelman's plate.
He's not a 3-4 defensive end like Adam Butler or Lawrence Guy. He's not a 3-4 outside linebacker like Chase Winovich or Kyle Van Noy. Wise looks like a base 4-3 end, which might make him a bad fit for this system. He's been productive in his first couple years with the Patriots. His length can be used as a weapon at the line of scrimmage. He's definitely an NFL player. But is he long for the roster? How he's used and how he performs Thursday could help us make a determination one way or the other.
Unlike Wise, his skill set seems better suited for a 3-4 defense than some other linebackers. He's a throwback. He wants to come downhill and attack offensive linemen in the running game. But in a day and age where sub defense is so critical, and on a roster where the assumption is that Dont'a Hightower and Ja'Whaun Bentley will get the majority of the work as the off-the-ball 'backers, is there going to be room for a player like Roberts who isn't a strong coverage player and doesn't factor in on special teams in a big way? Someone like Calvin Munson could potentially push Roberts for a roster spot because he's been used quite a bit in the kicking game this summer.
The second-round pick of just a few years ago had an outstanding start to camp where it seemed like he was getting his hands on footballs on a daily basis. Since then, his eye-opening moments have been relatively few and far between. Melifonwu is a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, but he might need a strong performance in order to give himself a better crack at a roster spot. The team has a handful of locks at the safety position in Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Terrence Brooks so Melifonwu could have his work cut out for him.
I don't think the Patriots are looking to part ways with a second-round pick before he sees a single regular-season snap. But Dawson has left a lot to be desired this summer. He's had a difficult time in coverage in practices, and he's allowed three catches for over 20 yards apiece in two preseason games. It'd be unprecedented for the Patriots to cut ties with a second-rounder so early, but corner is a deep position group, and Dawson might need to show a little more progress under the lights to ensure he has a spot on the 53.
LANCE KENDRICKS/RYAN IZZO/ERIC SAUBERT
It looks like Matt LaCosse is safe. He'd been getting a lot of the first-team work this summer until he suffered an injury in Detroit. After that? Nothing but question marks. Maybe the Patriots will go into the season with only one tight end, but the team would likely rather have multiple options there. Who will earn that opportunity? What we see from Kendricks, Izzo and Saubert on Thursday could go a long way in answering that question.