The Patriots got their roster down to 53 players on Tuesday and continued to make moves into Wednesday, filling in their practice squad, with all but one of the players coming from the Patriots original training camp roster.
The 16-player practice squad offers a lot more flexibility than it used to, with spots for six NFL veterans and 10 more for players who have not yet accrued two years of NFL experience. Two practice squad players can be elevated to the game roster every week without having to go through waivers. Any practice squad player can be elevated a total of three times before having to join the 53-man roster. This means that the Practice Squad is no longer just a developmental practice unit, it's filled with experienced NFL players who can be expected to play a significant role with the team during games.
Here's a breakdown of the Patriots initial 15 members of the practice squad, which continues to be fluid as the team jockeys its roster in preparation for the start of the regular season. As of Wednesday night, one practice squad spot and one roster spot are open so there are more moves to come.
Zappe was a surprise cut on Tuesday but returned to the team the next day as a member of the practice squad. Even with him back in the mix, it seems like the Patriots should still be in the market for a veteran quarterback on the roster to back up Mac Jones. Zappe got a ton of playing time during the preseason, but wasn't very productive, while his performances in joint practices were up and down. Zappe finished the preseason 30-of-51 for 253 yards with a touchdown. After a quick rollercoaster roster ride, he's back and has a chance to continue his development with the offense.
Cunningham had a strong showing in the first preseason game, leading the offense to a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive against the Texans. But it ended quietly as he came down with one catch on nine targets over the final two preseason games. Cunningham could continue to work on his craft as a receiver on the practice squad, while providing valuable looks for the defense, like he did often this summer. Cunningham can bring a lot of value that way, preparing the defense for quarterbacks like Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson, and has the chance to continue his development at a variety of spots.
It's all about health with Montgomery because when he's been on the field he's been productive for the Pats, at least in practices. It was a summer mostly lost for him after he played just one game in 2022, Montgomery was hurt in the second practice and didn't return until just before the final preseason game. With just two backs on the active roster, it seems a fairly sure bet that Montgomery will quickly find himself on the active roster and have a role within the offense.
For the second year in a row, Harris was a cut casualty for the original 53-man roster. After seeing fellow 2022 drafted back Pierre Strong traded away, Harris will have another opportunity to provide depth from the practice squad. Harris had 58 yards on 25 carries this preseason with a touchdown.
Pitts was under the radar for most of the summer but began to come on late, serving as one of the few highlight players from the preseason finale in Nashville. Pitts is a big receiver and gives the team a third rookie at the position to join the 2023 squad. With solid depth above him, it doesn't appear that Pitts will be making a trip to the active gameday roster anytime soon, but he'll have the year to develop behind the scenes.
The Patriots didn't let their third tight end from camp get very far as Sokol returns to the practice squad and provides valuable depth and a blocker's edge to the group behind Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. Sokol had some impressive moments in camp and was a consistent participant throughout the spring. He appeared in three games for the Pats in 2022.
The lone new addition from outside the organization, Pharoah Brown joins Sokol and the other tight ends. A veteran who played under Bill O'Brien in Houston for four games during his rookie season in 2020, Brown has 36 career starts spanning his five-year career with 51 catches and two touchdowns. He played most of his snaps in-line, giving the team a potential blocking option to consider and makes a pair of tight ends on the practice squad as insurance.
A hard-nosed blocker, Russey was hit with the injury bug this summer in the first preseason game which really hindered his chances to compete along the offensive line. He started last year on the practice squad as well and found his way to the active roster in December. He'll provide depth along the interior and another backup center on the practice squad. He showed this summer he is capable of working in at guard as well.
Stueber was a right tackle in college but was thrust into the flames on the left side this summer when injuries struck. After missing all of last season as a rookie with an injury, Stueber got a ton of work this summer, staying healthy and manning the left tackle spot for the entirety of the final preseason game, a feat of fitness in the brutal Nashville heat. Now on the practice squad, Stueber could head back to the right side where he played in college and can compete and provide depth as the Patriots sort out their tackle depth following two new additions to the roster.
No one has fought the injury bug harder than Perkins. The 2021 third-round pick has yet to appear in a game, landing on Injured Reserve in each of his first two seasons. Perkins got hurt again this summer but returned for the final preseason game and balled out, showing some of the strength and athleticism that he possesses recording nine tackles, one tackle-for-loss and a QB hit. If he continues that trajectory he might get his first game action of his career in 2023.
Giles-Harris was a late addition to camp but came with some NFL experience after time with the Jags and two years on Buffalo's practice squad. He ended his summer on a notable moment, picking off a pass in the game against the Titans. He'll provide some linebacker and special teams depth.
Munson was a standout in the preseason finale, sparking speculation that he might've even won a 53-man roster spot. Alas, he's back on the practice squad, where he'll be ready to provide experienced special teams play. It seems the Patriots are giving some younger players like Ameer Speed a chance on special teams, but Munson and IR-designee Cody Davis will provide two veteran presences as the team looks to improve on their 2022 performance.
Bledsoe is stuck in a loaded position group and probably would've made most other teams that don't have five good safeties. He played plenty with those top five and with two years in the defense under his belt, appears to be well versed on the defensive and the communication it requires. He had 11 tackles this preseason.
The Pats drafted and kept rookie Bryce Baringer at punter but still kept around the veteran lefty Waitmann, who served as Denver's punter last season. At the very least, Waitmann provides a lefty practice leg that can help prepare the team's returners, but he can also provide some insurance if Baringer struggles early on.