Patriots Rookie Minicamp Breakdown: Offense

It's not easy being a rookie, especially an undrafted one. Here's a look at this weekend's rookie minicamp hopefuls and a review of the players ahead of them on the roster. PI reports include tryout players the team didn't announce. Offense

Competing for roster spots in football is the nature of the business. In the NFL it can be a harsh reality for athletes once considered the best on their college team. Former super stars become mere names on a roster, sometimes, just numbers. Even conference standouts can be humbled as they strive to land a job in the pros. Linebacker Jerod Mayo is competing for a roster spot with veteran Tedy Bruschi. Though, as the team's first overall pick in the 2008 Draft, it's petty safe to say Mayo is guaranteed a spot unlike many of the team's undrafted rookie free agents he's participating in minicamp with this weekend.

For others, such as the team's second and third round picks of Terrence Wheatley, Shawn Crable and Kevin O'Connell, roster spots have probably already been reserved. The harsh reality starts to set in with picks in the fourth though seventh round and the undrafted rookies or veterans who hope to turn a camp invitation into spot in the locker room with their nameplate above it.

Some of the players attending the team's rookie minicamp this weekend will not be on the roster next month. Some will make it to the final round of cuts in September. Some - a select few - have a real shot at a roster spot in September. All are vying for a role with the team, and will learn - if they haven't already - starting jobs are given to those who work hard, study the playbook and using the talent their creator blessed them with.

With the first pick entitled to a role with the team in some capacity, the issue of playing time comes into focus. Where will these players fit, and whom do they have to beat out in order to land one of those coveted nameplates?

Here's a breakdown of the battles for roster spots and playing time by position on Offense.

Starters: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney
Reserves: Kelley Washington, Sam Aiken, Chad Jackson, C.J. Jones
Rookies: Matthew Slater, Josh Allen (Tryout)

Outlook: there is one wide receiver rookie at minicamp officially and that's fifth round pick Matt Slater (UCLA). Slater has experience at multiple positions from WR to safety. His contributions are mostly expected via special teams where the patriots have been looking to upgrade. As a receiver Slater may see some time as a reserve. He wasn't drafted to become the next replacement for Randy Moss or Wes Welker, and it's not likely he'll get to that level in the offense. The team still has CJ Jones and Chad Jackson vying for playing time. Allen, a rookie tryout from Troy is in minicamp as a long shot, but he could show enough to get a shot at training camp contract.

Starters: Ben Watson, David Thomas
Reserves: Stephen Spach, Marcus Pollard
Rookies: Jonathan Stupar, Tyson DeVree (Tryout)

Outlook: The loss of Kyle Brady had a huge impact on this position. Neither Ben Watson nor David Thomas are expected to fill Brady's shoes for blocking abilities. He was a monster when healthy. The loss clears the way for another tight end to fill that necessary third roster spot. Pollard and Spach are expected to battle it out for that third spot, but rookies Stupar and DeVree could surprise. DeVree is only in camp on a tryout basis, so his future will be determined shortly.

Tackles: Matt Light, Nick Kaczur
Guards: Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal
Center: Dan Koppen
Reserves: Ryan O'Callaghan (OT), Wesley Britt (OT), Russ Hochstein (OG/C), Billy Yates (OG/C), Dan Connor (OG), Jimmy Martin (OT)
Rookies: Josh Coffman (OT), Ryan Wendell (OC)

Outlook: The rookies and reserves haven't much of a shot to unseat the Patriots first team starters this year unless recovery form injury is an issue. Though Russ Hochstein and Billy Yates have been the primary backups, Dan Connor, Martin Coffman and Wendell will try to unseat them. Probably the most intriguing of the bunch is Coffman who began his career as a tight end before moving to other positions on the line. The Patriots carried nine linemen on the roster last year, so there will be four players battling for one or possibly two spots on the active roster. There will be space on the practice squad if one or more of the youngsters shows promise, and that is the most likely destination.

Starter: Tom Brady
Reserves: Matt Cassel, Matt Gutierrez
Rookies: Kevin O'Connell

Outlook: The job is Brady's until he's either knocked out of the game or needs some time to rest his perpetually injured shoulder. Cassel has held the primary job until recently. It's no secret the Patriots want to improve the depth behind the starters across the board, with Cassel considered the primary backup. The selection of O'Connell in the third round is a clear indication that the Patriots were not comfortable with the performance of the reserves. O'Connell immediately jumps into the mix for the primary backup position. Depending upon how quickly he can absorb the playbook he could even become the primary backup - though unlikely. The team is unlikely to carry four quarterbacks into the season, which means someone is bound for the highway. Gutierrez was a priority free agent, and won't make it through waivers to the practice squad. Cassel is the most likely target to be moved - and early speculation includes a possible trade.

Running Back: Laurence Maroney
Fullback: Heath Evans
Reserves: Sammy Morris (RB), Kevin Faulk, Kyle Eckel (FB)
Rookies: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kenny Cattouse (Tryout)

Outlook: The running back position was one the Patriots had multiple opportunities to address in the Draft, yet they chose not to. The pre-draft rumor mill included the possibility that veteran Shaun Alexander might get a look by the Patriots. It appears that was more wishful thinking by Alexander than genuine interest from the Patriots. Laurence Maroney returns as the team's starting running back, but Sammy Morris - who had a great start in 2007 - is returning from injury and expected to push Maroney for playing time. Veteran Kevin Faulk will likely continue his role as third down specialist and part time punt /kick returner, though the team is looking to upgrade the position.

A pair of rookies were in minicamp this weekend; Green-Ellis (5-foot-11, 215-pounds) and Cattouse (5-foot-10, 208-pounds). Green-Ellis seems to fit the reserve role mold, though he's nearly the same size as Maroney and managed a very respectable 4.6 ypc avg. in the SEC last season. Cattouse was Troy's leading back last season and finished 5th in the conference. He's in New England for a look, but the reality is that he will have a tough time surprise or surpassing Faulk's lock on that spot.

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