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Patriots’ 53-Man Roster Prediction: How Many Young Additions Will Fit Into Defense?

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Jamie Collins (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jamie Collins (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — Yesterday, we looked at how the Patriots’ offense should look when the season begins. While there isn’t nearly as large an overhaul on the defensive side of the ball, there are nevertheless many new faces and several positional battles worth watching throughout camp and the preseason.

Here’s a look at how the Patriots’ defense may look when the season begins.

Safeties (5)
Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon

Outside Of The Bubble: Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis

Adrian Wilson adds a lot to the Patriots’ secondary, but he’s not going to be an every-down player. That will open up playing time for second-year safety Tavon Wilson, who had a decent rookie season, especially considering he was instantly labeled by many pundits to be a huge reach on draft night.

Devin McCourty, at this point, is a safety, and he will be counted on to be better at the position than he’s been in the past. Steve Gregory was good if not great last year, which is all he should be counted on for in 2013, and third-round pick Duron Harmon was a high enough selection to have an all-but-guaranteed spot.

Sadly, Nate Ebner’s rugby videos might not be enough to lock down a roster spot this year.

Cornerbacks (5)
Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard (for now)

Outside Of The Bubble: Marquice Cole, Brandon Jones, Justin Green, Stephon Morris

Alfonzo Dennard is on the team for now, but that could change on Aug. 27, when he’s due back in court. With all of the Aaron Hernandez mess, the Patriots’ patience with legal proceedings is going to be shorter. We’ll assume for now that he’ll be on the roster, mostly because the Patriots need him.

The rest is all pretty self-explanatory, though it does assume that Ras-I Dowling will make it through camp without getting injured. If you have basic human decency, you’re hoping to see Dowling play this season. He’s been through a lot.

Lots of eyes will be on third-round pick Logan Ryan, too. In solely analyzing Ryan as a player, he seems promising, so it will be worth the effort to try to block out all the failed draft picks at defensive back in the Belichick era and give him an honest look.

Linebackers (6)
Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Dane Fletcher, Jamie Collins, Niko Koutovides

Outside Of The Bubble:  Steve Beauharnais, Jeff Tarpinian, A.J. Edds, Mike Rivera

Dane Fletcher suffered an injury in one of the worst ways imaginable last season, covering a punt in a preseason game on a play that didn’t even count because of a penalty. A play that didn’t count in a game that didn’t count cost Fletcher his entire 2012 season, and he’ll have to show he’s fully recovered from his torn ACL to resume his role on the team. Given how promising he looked in 2011, the coaches will give him the opportunity to earn it.

Not much else is too difficult a decision, with the team’s top pick in Jamie Collins getting lots of attention in camp. I give the final spot to Niko Koutovides for his special teams ability, but expect seventh-round pick Steve Beauharnais to try like hell to win that spot.

Defensive Linemen (10)
Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Anthony Rashad White, Marcus Forston , Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich,  Jermaine Cunningham, Jason Vega, Justin Francis

Outside Of The Bubble: Cory Grissom, Jake Bequette, Joe Vellano, Marcus Benard, Michael Buchanan

Armond Armstead might have a better chance of making the roster, but his being placed on the non-football injury list this week puts that in question. The signing of Anthony Rashad White on that same day indicates the team may have targeted him for a similar role. Marcus Forston, on the virtue of being around for a while, has the upper hand in that battle as well. That’s a situation that may be settled in the first two weeks of camp, but nor, Armstead makes it.

The signings of CFL players Armstead and Jason Vega (a local guy) are intriguing, and Vega’s drawn comparisons to Rob Ninkovich already. A good camp and preseason, and Vega could be suiting up for his hometown team.

Justin Francis could be the odd man out if the Patriots are over the limit for former Rutgers players on a single roster, but given how little impact Jake Bequette had last year as a rookie, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fail to make the cut.

Jermaine Cunningham will be someone to watch as well. A four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy stalled what was shaping up to be his best season, so he’ll have to prove he can do it without any help if he wants to keep his spot.

Total Defensive Players: 26

Special Teams (3)
Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken

Zoltan Mesko is a very good punter, Stephen Gostkowski is a pretty good kicker, and Danny Aiken, well, he gets the ball to their feet. Nothing should change there.

Read the roster projection for the offense here.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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