By the fourth preseason game against the Giants, the majority of the Patriots roster is usually set. Last year, just four non-specialists who would have an actual role with the team in the regular season played on the last Thursday of August – Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen and Adam Butler. A few other lucky ones might make it to the practice squad, but otherwise this is the last time we’ll see most of these players in a Patriots uniform.
This year there might be a few more questions than there were last year, as some uncertainty remains at the bottom end of the depth. Injuries from Week 3 have also complicated the decisions as Brandon King’s season-ending torn quad opened up a special teams spot.
Here are the final five 5 battles to watch in the preseason finale on Thursday night.
Cole Croston vs. Dan Skipper
The battle for the backup swing tackle spot is coming down this. Croston joined the team in 2017 as a rookie free agent out of Iowa and spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squad aside from a two-game stint as a backup in November of 2018. Skipper has followed a similar path after not being drafted and spending time on practice squads in Dallas and Denver prior to his arrival in New England. Skipper got an early lead on the competition while Isaiah Wynn and Croston were injured early in camp. But now it’s a dead heat between Croston and Skipper, as both got looks at the two tackle spots against the Panthers. Croston's interior versatility is a plus that could give him a leg up, while Skipper's length helps offset his limited athleticism. They should both be in the spotlight again vs. the Giants.
Jarrett Stidham vs. Brian Hoyer
Stidham entered the third preseason game halfway through the second quarter and went the rest of the way, fueling speculation he might be the only backup this season. The team knows what they have in Brian Hoyer but will they put him in against the Giants? Or will it be all Stidham to give him a chance to prove he can continue to develop? Last year it was all Danny Etling in the final preseason game, but this year a full game of the rookie could take on a new meaning. Or if Hoyer does play, is he fighting for a job or being put on display for potential suitors? There will be a lot to overanalyze however the quarterback position plays out in this one.
Braxton Berrios vs. Gunner Olszewski
With the release of Maurice Harris, the spotlight turns to Berrios and Olszewski for a potential last receiver roster spot. Berrios was disappointingly absent from Week 3 against the Panthers and Olszewski stole some of the spotlight with four solid punt returns and one tough catch. At the very least this is a direct battle for who the practice squad priority will be. Berrios was the early favorite this summer, but Olszewski made up ground and now has the chance to show he’s surpassed the 2018 sixth rounder.
Ryan Izzo vs. Matt Lacosse
Izzo got a close look against the Panthers, starting the game and coming up with a highlight catch along with some active blocking. Meanwhile, Lacosse hasn’t been seen on the game field since getting hurt against the Lions. At this point no one knows for sure how the tight end position will look in the opener, but Lacosse and Izzo are the only viable options on the roster. There could be a spot for both, and getting Lacosse a tune up and giving Izzo more game reps would seem vital to getting either of them ready to play a role against the Steelers.
Keion Crossen vs. Duke Dawson
Brandon King’s injury most directly impacted Crossen and Dawson, who are defensive backs that play special teams. Right now the favorite would have to be Crossen, who has more experience than Dawson and a bit more versatility as a cornerback. Dawson has been in the slot and firmly behind Jonathan Jones since Jones got healthy last summer. It’s tough to cut a second-round pick in this second year and that’s why no one will be fighting for a job more than Dawson on Thursday night.