FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After so much scrutiny on the quarterback position in New England this off-season , the biggest surprise on cutdown day came at kicker.
The Patriots released both veteran Nick Folk and rookie fifth-round draft pick Justin Rohrwasser, for now leaving the position open as they begin preparations for their Sept. 13 season opener against Miami.
The moves were among the 24 cuts made by the Patriots on Saturday to trim their roster to a league-limit 53 players.
New England will now go hunting in the waiver market for another option or could potentially re-sign one of the two kickers by making another transaction to free up a roster spot.
Rohrwasser began camp as the front-runner to replace Patriots all-time leader scorer Stephen Gostkowski following his release in March. But Rohrwasser suffered an injury in the second week of camp and struggled when he returned to workouts. Folk was signed on Aug. 24 and was the more consistent of the two the rest of the way.
Folk, 35, brought steadiness to the position last season after Gostkowski suffered a season-ending hip injury in October, connecting on 14 of 17 field goals and all 12 of his extra points in seven games. He said recently that finishing the season in New England last year made jumping into the training camp competition easier.
“It’s always nice to come back into a place where you played. You understand it. You kind of get the flow,” he said. “It makes my job that much easier.”
The Patriots began Saturday with 77 players on their roster after cutting ties with receiver Mohamed Sanu, cornerback Michael Jackson and defensive tackle Michael Barnett earlier in the week.
Cam Newton was chosen the starting quarterback on Thursday, but he will enter the season with both Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer behind him after both made the roster.
Much like Tom Brady last season, Newton will have a mostly young group of receivers to throw to. Joining veterans Julian Edelman and Damiere Byrd will be a trio of second-year players in N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers, who beat out Devin Ross and Jeff Thomas for the final spots in the group.
Other players released Saturday were: quarterback Brian Lewerke; running backs Lamar Miller and J.J. Taylor; receivers Andre Baccellia and Isaiah Zuber; tight ends Paul Quessenberry, Paul Butler and Jake Burt; offensive linemen Tyler Gauthier and Ben Braden; linebackers Terez Hall, Caash Maluia and Scoota Harris; defensive linemen Tashawn Bower, Bill Murray, Nick Thurman, Rashod Berry and Xavier Williams; and cornerbacks D’Angelo Ross and Myles Bryant.
Coach Bill Belichick acknowledged rule changes that expanded the practice squad to 16 players and makes every player eligible for it regardless of accrued years in the league gives all teams unique flexibility in constructing their initial rosters.
He thinks all teams will exercise creativity this season.
“A lot of the practice squad is dependent on what you have above that on your 53-man roster,” Belichick said Friday. “I think this year is a little bit different because we will have to take into consideration the shorter injured reserve rules (players can return after three games in IR) and also the unlimited (returns from injured reserve). That changes things a bit, too, and that can kind of be combined with the practice squad to help the team’s depth.”
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Kyle Hightower, The Associated Press