Time is running out for players looking to duck the henchman on cutdown day.
With only two games remaining on the New England Patriots’ preseason schedule, some have already assured their position on the right side of the line, but plenty of others will still be attempting to build their case Friday night against Tampa Bay.
Each week during the preseason, RapidReports will take a position-by-position look at the players we think are likely to stick around when rosters are cut to 53 on Sept. 2 and those who may end up in the unemployment line.
Here is our latest breakdown following Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles:
Stock rising: Deion Branch appeared to be slipping after suffering an undisclosed injury during camp that kept him out of team drills and the preseason opener, but put himself back in the discussion at wide receiver by catching three passes on four targets for 51 yards Monday night.
Stock falling: Undrafted rookie running back Brandon Bolden has struggled with fumbles lately, and lost one against the Eagles Monday night. Stevan Ridley's season ended after he fumbled twice last year. Bolden may be headed to the practice squad if he doesn't find a way to earn back Bill Belichick's trust.
QB -- In: (3) Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett. Analysis: The battle for the top backup role is starting to become interesting. Mallett had a shaky camp and often struggled with his decision-making, but pieced together a mostly solid performance (10 of 20, 105 yards) in New England’s second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles on a night where Hoyer (5 of 17, 55 yards) struggled. While Hoyer still projects to be the No. 2, Mallett has at least forced himself into the conversation.
RB/FB -- In: (4) Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Jeff Demps. Out: Brandon Bolden, Eric Kettani, Spencer Larsen. Analysis: Ridley has positioned to be the lead back, with Vereen and Woodhead filling in behind him. Bolden, previously considered a strong candidate to crack the final roster, has struggled with ball protection and may have let his job slide out of his hands. He’s lost at least four balls during practices and muffed a punt Monday night. Demps, who will likely make his biggest impact returning kicks, takes Bolden’s spot.
TE -- In: (2) Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez. Out: Visanthe Shiancoe, Daniel Fells, Alex Silvestro, Tyler Urban, Jake Ballard. Analysis: Ideally, the Patriots would like to have another body in the meeting room with Hernandez and Gronkowski, but injuries have kept many of the reserves sidelined throughout training camp. Fells will likely start the year on the physically unable to perform list and could join the roster after Week 6. Shiancoe’s hopes take another hit with each day missed due to a hamstring injury. Ballard will be stowed away until next season while he continues to recover from ACL surgery.
WR -- In: (6) Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, Matthew Slater, Donte’ Stallworth. Out: Jabar Gaffney, Jesse Holley, Jeremy Ebert. Analysis: Gaffney’s chemistry with Brady can’t save him here. Branch and Stallworth have consistently outperformed Gaffney and, from this perspective, are well ahead in one of the more highly contested camp battles. Edelman and Slater stick for their contributions on special teams. Ebert remains a darkhorse.
OL -- In (9): Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Nick McDonald, Donald Thomas, Dan Koppen. Out: Jeremiah Warren, Markus Zusevics, Matt Kopa, Dustin Waldron, Derek Dennis, Darrion Weems Analysis: This area of the roster is very much in flux. It is unknown if Vollmer will be ready for Week 1 after coming off PUP earlier this week. Guard Brian Waters has yet to report for duty, but still has a stall in the locker room, meaning that a return remains possible. Koppen, the longtime center, could be in danger of being cut. McDonald wins a spot based on his versatility to play across the line.
DL -- In (9): Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Ron Brace, Justin Francis, Brandon Deaderick, Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott. Out: Justin Francis, Myron Pryor, Gerrard Warren, Tim Bullman, Marcus Harrison, Aaron Lavarias, Marcus Forston. Analysis: Tuesday’s release of defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene should clear the way for Brace to crack the roster after a solid camp. Cunningham, another player previously considered to be on the bubble, also appears to have pushed his way onto the roster after consistently creating pressure against the Eagles. It should be a new look this season with Jones and Ninkovich starting on the ends. Francis could win a spot, taking one away from the linebacker position, but the hope is to sneak him through to the practice squad. Pryor should join this group after starting the season on PUP.
LB -- In: (7) Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, Bobby Carpenter, Jeff Tarpinaian, Mike Rivera, Niko Koutouvides. Out: Tracy White. Analysis: New England’s plans for this position were thrown off course when Dane Fletcher suffered a torn ACL in the preseason opener. It’s possible that the team carries seven here to fill the vacancy, but Tarpinian, who has solid coverage skills, should get the nod over Rivera if it comes down to a numbers game. Hightower, Spikes and Mayo serve as a formidable trio at the top, with Carpenter as the top reserve.
DB -- In: (10) Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore, Marquice Cole, James Ihedigbo, Nate Ebner, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson. Out: Josh Barrett, Alfonzo Dennard, Will Allen, Sergio Brown, Ross Ventrone, Derrick Martin, Malcolm Williams. Analysis: Dennard is a candidate to start the season on injured reserve after being sidelined with a hamstring injury for all but two practices. Ebner, a sixth-round pick, has shown a knack for making plays in the secondary and showed up with an interception Monday night. He gets the nod over Barrett based on upside and his play on special teams.
Special teams -- In (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken. Out: Nobody. Analysis: Nothing to see here.
Nick Underhill covers the Patriots for MassLive.com. Follow him on Twitter @CBSSportsNFLNE or @nick_underhill.