Key roster battles on tap vs. Bucs

Key roster battles on tap vs. Bucs
August 18, 2011, 9:23 pm
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By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
TAMPA BAY - Checking in with a few of the Patriots for whom Thursday night's preseason game against the Bucs is more than a tuneup. Jonathan WilhiteThe fourth-year corner out of Auburn got juked badly on an 84-yard kickoff return last week. With the Patriots' secondary pretty deep at the moment and Wilhite closer to the bottom than the top, he needs to play well on special teams and in the regular defense. Darius ButlerSame boat as Wilhite. Last week against the Jags, he got picked on and abused. He seems to play tentative and in fear of getting beat. Probably not long for this roster which is a tough reality since the team spent a second-rounder. Darnell JenkinsThe Patriots were high on him last year, giving him a fairly generous practice squad deal. But the likeable wideout may be faced with a numbers crunch at the position. With Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Taylor Price, Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate in the mix, an as-yet unproven Jenkins needs a surehanded performanceLee SmithThe strapping tight end from Marshall was drafted in the fifth round. At 6-6, 269-pounds, he's shown that he can block and catch during camp. There's a little battle going on to see who will be the third tight end behind Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Will YeatmanThis is the other guy in that competition with Smith. A6-5, 268-pounder, Yeatman went undrafted out of Maryland. How that happened is hard to understand because he's been every bit as impressive as Smith during camp. Brandon MeriweatherHe's not had an amazing camp. It may not be poor enough to warrant all the conversation he's generated, but the former first-round safety continues to be a player who can't own the free safety spot at the top of the depth chart. When he plays and how well he carries out his assignments will help decide if he can quiet the wolves at his door. Sergio BrownThe 6-2, 210-pound rookie free agent in 2010 keeps getting as many reps as Meriweather. The team isn't in a position to release any safeties - only Brown, Meriweather and Chung are healthy - but Brown could be the one to make Meriweather expendable. All Those DLsThere are the defensive tackles - Gerard Warren, Myron Pryor, Kyle Love, and Darryl Richard and Kade Weston- fighting to make this team and play alongside Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth. Then there are the defensive ends - Andre Carter, Eric Moore and Mark Anderson - battling to be the edge guy. Some talented players are going to be left behind when the cuts get made.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran