Each day, following Patriots training camp practice, we'll highlight one intriguing "long shot" to make the roster. What might that player bring to the table for Bill Belichick's club? Who's he competing with for a spot? And what does he have to do to make the club?
FOXBORO -- Cole Croston was active for just three games as a rookie, but it's clear the Patriots liked him. Otherwise he wouldn't have been on the roster.
Undrafted out of Iowa, Croston made the 53-man roster at the end of last year's preseason slate, getting the nod over Ted Karras (who was later re-signed to the active roster and played all 16 regular-season games) and sixth-round selection Conor McDermott.
With good length and the versatility to play guard or tackle, the Patriots rolled with Croston even though they knew there was a chance he'd be inactive almost every week.
"We covet three things when we look for offensive linemen: They have to be smart; they have to be tough; and they have to be athletic enough," Dante Scarnecchia said late last season. "I think [Croston] fits the bill on all three of those things. We know he fits the bill on all three of those things. Just how fast he'll develop will determine how well he does going forward in this league. We're glad we got him."
Croston played more snaps (56) than any offensive player for the Patriots other than Brian Hoyer (59) in last week's preseason opener, yet he may not be a lock to make the roster.
MORE LONG SHOT:
There's plenty of competition on the line, especially after the Patriots drafted Isaiah Wynn with their first pick in the first round. Like Croston, Wynn has the versatility to play inside and out. Wynn's making the roster. It looks like Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon and LaAdrian Waddle will be part of the initial 53 as well.
Veterans like James Ferentz, Matt Tobin, Luke Bowanko, Ulrick John and Brian Schwenke give the Patriots even more to think about up front.
"We have several players that have had two, three years experience in the league that are very competitive for position on our team," Bill Belichick saidFriday. "We drafted one player and one of our players didn’t re-sign with us in free agency. We only carried eight offensive linemen last year. So, there’s definitely a lot of opportunity overall at that position and we have a lot of players that I think are pretty close in the competition, both inside and outside, and we tried to give everybody a good look [Thursday], as we have through camp."
Where does that leave Croston?
The team could keep him as the eighth linemen, but would they instead look at someone like Karras, who can back up all three interior spots, including center? Would they go with someone with more experience than Croston? Or would they look to add depth at another position entirely?
Right now it looks like a difficult choice -- even with Cannon missing practice time with an injury lately.
It'd be understandable if the Patriots were reluctant to part with Croston, a player in whom they invested an active roster spot for a full year, but if it's "best for the team..." Luckily for them, they don't have to make that call for another couple weeks.