Shea McClellin's health status among top questions in projecting Pats roster

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There are always surprises when the New England Patriots form their initial 53-man roster, and I will have a final projection posted for Friday morning. The projection actually includes just 52 players, as I left a spot open for at least one outside addition.

Here were some of the main things I wrestled with on the projection:

Could Shea McClellin be headed for IR? Without knowing the specifics of what has held linebacker Shea McClellin out of most of the preseason/training camp, it’s a challenge to project his place on the roster. Tuesday’s trade for linebacker Marquis Flowers, to me, might have been most related to McClellin not being available on special teams.

Do contributions on special teams secure Brandon Bolden's spot? The Patriots are loaded at the top of the running back depth chart, and Bolden would be a depth option whose primary value to the club comes on special teams. With the Patriots having a run of injuries on special teams in recent days/weeks, it has me wondering whether Bolden’s spot on the club might have become more secure than it would have been otherwise.

Will high total of “Big Nickel” snaps aid Jordan Richards? There have been some notable breakdowns in the preseason for Richards, so based solely on the tape he might be on the outside looking in. But when considering his contributions on special teams as well as the many snaps the Patriots run in their “Big Nickel” package (three safeties), I’m curious whether that helps him stick as the No. 4 safety. One thing the Patriots wouldn’t want to do is not be able to run a big part of their defensive package in the event of an injury to one of their top three safeties.

Has James O'Shaughnessy really earned the No. 3 tight end role? If the Patriots keep a third tight end on the current roster, I feel confident that O’Shaughnessy would be the choice based on his special-teams experience. But his performance has been up and down this preseason, which sparks the thought that the Patriots could consider looking at outside options to fill that role. Undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister has promise but hasn’t shown up on special teams, which makes me think he’s more destined for the practice squad.

Where does Elandon Roberts fit at linebacker? Similar to Richards, the tape has been inconsistent for Roberts this preseason, but he has a background in the system and has flashed at times at a position where there isn’t great depth. Limited special-teams contributions have me wondering how secure his place on the roster truly is.

How best to balance the present and future at offensive tackle? It wouldn’t be a surprise if third-round pick Tony Garcia lands on injured reserve after missing most of camp, which leaves Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle and Conor McDermott as the top backup tackles. Fleming and Waddle are most ready to help right now, while McDermott, the sixth-round pick from UCLA, has top-end intangibles and a good frame to work with. I’m curious whether the Patriots view McDermott as someone they wouldn’t want to expose to waivers, given the value of the position and how hard it is to fill it.