Tonight marks the last opportunity for players on the bubble to make an impression on the team's coaches and front office. If they want to stay in Foxboro, then they'll need to show they belong. Who are these players, and what do they need to do?
Roster cut downs loom Saturday, and tonight represents the last chance to leave an impression on the coaching staff - or other teams watching. For some, the point is moot, if they haven't done it by now, even a stellar game tonight may not make much of a difference. It's not that the coaches will be unimpressed with a standout performance, but consistency is key now. The players with the most to lose, are the ones least likely to get the type of exposure they need.
We've gone through the roster and broken out the players by position group who have the most to gain or lose by having a good game tonight.
Matt Gutierrez - Gutierrez is fighting the chance that he'll be cut with the hope that the Patriots can sneak him onto the practice squad. Last year, the Patriots had four quarterbacks in camp then decided to go through the season with just two. Gutierrez can elevate his stock with a good performance tonight, and he'll likely get the opportunity to do so as most teams rest their starters for the final preseason game.
Kelley Washington - Washington is in a tenuous position with the Patriots. Filled with plenty of competition, Washington has had limited opportunities to showcase his ability to make plays in games. He managed to snag a pass from Tom Brady last week with the first team offense and finished the night with 3 receptions for 37 yards.
Quinton Smith - Smith has virtually no chance to stick on the Patriots active roster, but could make a case for the practice squad tonight. He's shown a nice burst throughout camp, and could conceivably elevate his stock enough to get claimed by a team in need of a reserve back.
Clint Oldenburg - Oldenburg has to show something tonight for the team to keep him. He struggled early in minicamp to pick up the proper technique. He had some competition push him for reps at tackle, so he was moved inside to try his hand at guard. If Oldenburg doesn't impress tonight, he may not even make the practice squad.
Corey Hilliard - The same issue that Oldenburg faces goes for Hilliard as well. Unfortunately the rookie gained notoriety by becoming nauseous at rookie minicamp. After the rough start, Hilliard worked hard to learn the system and get in shape. It may be too big of a hill to clime with all the talented tackles in front of him.
Garrett Mills - Mills missed his rookie season and hasn't done enough to distinguish himself from the pack at tight end in 2007. Although the talented Tulsa product hold much promise, there may not be enough room for the team to carry him and FB Heath Evans on the roster. It looks like Evans has proven to be more valuable at this point. With a strong showing, Mills could impress other teams looking for a H-back for their rosters. There's still an outside chance that he stays in New England, but it would mean the departure of the better blocking Marcellus Rivers
Dante Wesley - the Patriots gave up a conditional draft pick (sixth round) for Wesley in a trade with the Chicago Bears in early August. During that time, Wesley has had to go through a crash course in learning New England's defensive scheme. Considered a solid special teams player, Wesley's value is in the ability to be an extra defensive back for a team which has struggled keeping healthy bodies in the backfield. Wesley will need to impress the coaching staff more than fellow special teams veteran Mel Mitchell who is a backup Safety.
Mel Mitchell - Similar to Wesley, Mitchell has to prove his value on special teams. After suffering an arm injury, which cause the team to put him on IR in 2006, Mitchell knows this is his last best chance to make the cut. The competition for roster spots may depend on the injuries to other players in the defensive secondary (cornerback or safety) regardless if Mitchell outperforms Wesley or other players on the bubble.
Santonio Thomas - Thomas reminds some of the late Marquise Hill. He's a guy the Patriots have in camp who hasn't seen a lot of action, but one can see potential in his size and his college pedigree (Miami, FL). Thomas could conceivably land on the roster, but it's looking less likely with the players in front of him. He remains eligible for the practice squad.
Corey Mays - Mays needs to have a solid showing tonight to have any chance to unseat rookies Justin Rogers or Oscar Lua for a roster spot. A special teams contributor, Mays brings additional value to the team for his coverage skills. It's his knowledge of the defense that will help him earn a roster spot or not. Mays does have practice squad eligibility left, as do the rookies, so the team could try to protect the most valuable players on the active roster while giving the others time to develop on the practice squad.
Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long time contributor to the Scout.com network. A New England native, Scott has followed the Patriots for over two decades and covered the team since 2001. You can find archives of his columns by searching for "Jon Scott"