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Standout Patriots make roster push vs. Panthers

Here are five on-the-bubble Patriots that stated their case for a roster spot against the Panthers.

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Friday night's Patriots win over the Panthers provided another opportunity for those players on the roster bubble to catch the coach's eye and a number of new-ish Pats did just that, making some key plays that show the potential contributions they could make.

With just one more week of preseason to go and final cuts down to 53 players looming on August 30, time is of the essence for this group as they'll look to carry over the momentum into joint practices and the final game against the Raiders.

Here are five who stood out against the Panthers that fans should be keeping an eye on.

Lil'Jordan Humphrey

With five catches for 71 yards, Humphrey led the Patriots in receiving while also making a dynamic special teams play, tapping a punted ball out of the end zone to have it downed at the Carolina three-yard-line. This performance came a week after Humphrey posted six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown against the Giants, as the big receiver is really coming on after arriving late in the spring.

"He's made some plays for us since he's been here," said head coach Bill Belichick after the game. "He's a big kid that is tough and has very good hands and is kind of a big receiver, tight end-ish type of guy, has a good feel, very good instincts in the passing game, handles himself well in the middle of the field with linebackers under him, over him, in between him... That was a player that we got late, wasn't with us in the spring, signed him in July, or late June, whatever it was. He's coming off an injury last year, but he's come in, really worked hard and made a very positive impression here. We're glad we have him."

Humphrey's chemistry with rookie Bailey Zappe has been apparent, but he'll look to build on his connection with starter Mac Jones to show what elements he can bring to the main attack. This week could provide an opportunity to get a longer look at him with the top unit.

"I think L.J. is a beast, and when he got signed here, I remember I texted him and asked him if he wanted to come catch, and he immediately responded and found a way to make it out to where we were and came to our throwing session," said Mac Jones. "He's a grinder. He's a big dude. He's great on special teams, too. We have great receivers, and it's great to see them all get a chance to catch the ball and run. He's a big body type receiver, and that's a good addition for us."

With 18 NFL games under his belt, Humphrey has experience that the others on this list do not, and his size gives him some positional flexibility as a weapon. Add in the plus special teams play and it's no secret why the young vet is getting a lot of attention.

Shaun Wade

Wade arrived late last preseason and spent most of the year working behind the scenes after the Patriots acquired the 2021 draft pick from the Ravens. He was somewhat of a wild card entering this season, and now, with two cornerbacks landing on IR last week, it has further thrust him into the mix.

Against the Panthers, with a golden opportunity to play the third-most snaps at his position (24), he made the most of it, making a nice read out of his zone to pick off a pass in the third quarter. This came on the heels of a strong performance against the Giants as well, with Wade chipping in a pass defense. He's been consistently competitive with downfield and when the ball is in the air.

Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant currently appear to top the depth chart, with Terrance Mitchell and Wade complementing the rookies Marcus and Jack Jones. An argument could be made to keep them all, but it can be a difficult numbers game to project.

"Because of a couple of guys that weren't able to participate at the beginning part of training camp, he's played some different positions," said Belichick in early August of Wade. "He played a little bit of safety, some inside on the nickel position, and outside. So he's gotten a good dose of everything. Smart kid. He's been productive, has good skills. He's just gained experience in the system. He's getting better every day out there."

Josh Bledsoe

Wade wasn't the only under-the-radar second-year player to force a turnover last night, as Josh Bledsoe's perfect form tackle helped jar loose a fumble that he then also recovered in the second quarter. It was yet another example of the effective and surprising play from Bledsoe this summer.

Despite missing all of last season and looking up at a stacked veteran depth chart, he's made the most of his chances, looking comfortable whether he's in the box making physical plays like the forced fumble, or working in coverage.

There's a lot of depth at safety but his youth and versatility are an advantage for Bledsoe. The team should do everything they can to keep the promising player at a position they highly value in their defense.

Sam Roberts

The rookie sixth-rounder has been a gamer this summer, showing up with physical, disruptive play along the defensive line. He delivered two big plays against the Panthers, notching a tackle-for-loss and recovering a late-game fumble for a touchdown. Against the Giants last week, he recorded five tackles.

He may have been flying under the radar in practice but in games, he's been standing out.

Roberts is making a huge jump from Northwest Missouri State, but has all the physical attributes necessary to compete at the NFL level. His size, strength and length make him an intriguing fit along a defensive line that added just two rookies to the group this offseason.

There's still plenty of competition with Roberts however, with LaBryan Ray and Daniel Ekuale similarly making some impactful plays. They'll all be the mix right down to the roster cut wire.

"He's fast, he's certainly had some good moments and good plays," said Bill Belichick this past week of Roberts. "It's a big jump for him: the level of competition, scheme, everything else. He was one of the best where he played, and that's flipped now. He's a talented guy, he works very hard. He's improved a lot. He's got a lot of room to grow. His fundamentals and his recognition and obviously experience in the league – he has a long, long way to go on that. But, he's better every time he steps onto the field, he's been healthy, he's been on the field, he's gotten a lot of reps, which is how you improve."

Brendan Schooler

Schooler was touted as a potential special teams stud after he was signed as an undrafted rookie this season and he's looked comfortable and fluid from the get-go. Snagging an interception and downing a punt inside the five against the Panthers was Schooler's most impressive work yet as he has the makings of a long-time pro.

Athletic with good length, he played both receiver and defensive back in college as well, Schooler has impressive traits and it seems like a pretty good bet that he's the favorite to be the latest undrafted rookie to make the Patriots roster.

Matthew Slater was impressed with the work both Schooler and Humphrey did against Carolina.

"Yes, it was fantastic. I mean, both of those guys have done a great job since they got here," said Slater. "They both have been working really hard. That play that Lil'Jordan made was fantastic, and then Schooler is just bought in to playing the kicking game. He understands what his role is in terms of that and has been a sponge just by asking so many questions and learning so it has been great to see that transition to the game situation."

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