The New England Patriots must trim their roster of 85 players down to 75 before Monday's 4 p.m. deadline. Among those currently on the roster bubble is rookie Alfonzo Dennard, who has missed all but three practices to this point.
Once considered second-round material, Dennard nearly went undrafted, sliding to the basement of April's draft following an untimely arrest.
It was Dennard’s legal indiscretions that first appeared to be his most daunting challenge, but his inability to stay healthy now looks to be much more troublesome.
Head coach and GM Bill Belichick was willing to make the investment, and the team appeared well positioned to handle Dennard's baggage. However, after spending weeks on the shelf with a hamstring injury, Dennard may not be well positioned for a roster spot. Via the Boston Herald:
"You hate to see any player miss time," Belichick said. "The more days they miss, the further behind they fall. We’ll just take it day to day."
Recently, the team cut ties with Jonathan Fanene after handing him nearly $4 million via a signing bonus in the offseason (via NFL.com). Like Dennard, Fanene couldn’t get onto the practice field and quickly fell out of favor as a result.
That’s not to suggest that Dennard is in as much danger of being released, though. At 22, he’s got a lot more mileage left on his tread than the 30-year-old Fanene, who also needs knee surgery.
Dennard also returned to practice on Wednesday, according to Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com.
Where will Dennard end up?
Unlike Ras-I Dowling a year before, Dennard appears to have avoided serious injury and surgery. While this significantly improves his chances of making the final roster, it doesn't negate all the missed time.
I find it very difficult to envision a scenario in which Dennard is able to outplay the likes of Marquice Cole, Sterling Moore and Will Allen in such a short amount of time. We've all seen stranger things happen in New England's secondary, but it’s still not likely to occur.
As Mike Rodak of ESPNBoston laid out earlier this week, time is running out for those who have been MIA:
Traditionally, the first cut-down is the end of the road for injured players, with the second cut-down coming too quickly to make much of a difference in a player's health situation.
For [Tracy] White, [Spencer] Larsen, [Visanthe] Shiancoe, and Dennard, that gives them six days to get back on the field. If not, they have likely lost the battle of attrition brought by the preseason, and could be released or placed on injured reserve, ending their season.
With Dennard active, he may make the initial cut down to 75, but the team will be forced to trim 22 more players by August 31. It's going to be to be a tough climb, considering how long he's been out, and one can only hope that he didn't try to come back too quickly.