FOXBORO - The days are dwindling to a precious few for 24 football players who want to be New England Patriots.
On Monday, the Patriots reduced their roster from 84 players to 77. By 4 p.m. today, two more will have to depart the premises of Gillette Stadium to comply with the first mandatory cut of the preseason. The second and last must be finalized by 6 p.m. Saturday, at which time the Patriots must be at the 53-man regular-season roster limit.
That is probably going to be the day of reckoning for second-year defensive lineman Jake Bequette.
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound end from Arkansas was the 90th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he rarely saw the field last year. He was active for only three games and didn't register a single recordable statistic - and for that reason (as well as the fact that he has only five tackles through three preseason games), it's no wonder that many believe Bequette's roster spot to be at risk this week.
For his part, Bequette believes he's a better player than he was last year.
"Well, I think I've made some significant improvements," he said. "It shows up every day at practice on film, but just like any other day I'm trying to work on my technique, perfect my craft and help the team any way I can."
Bequette, who started 42 of 48 games in which he appeared at Arkansas, said that he's always been the sort of player that has to build his momentum.
"It's been a steady rise," he said. "For one reason or another, I've been someone who has always made steady, slow improvement. Not always as quickly as I want to, but I always feel like I'm heading in the right direction and I feel that way now."
But there would be no time like the present for that improvement to show up on the field. Bequette is part of a position group where there is an opportunity to stick, as the team needs depth behind Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Tommy Kelly and Rob Ninkovich.
He'll probably get the lion's share of snaps Thursday night as the Patriots entertain the New York Giants in the final preseason game (7:30 p.m.; Ch. 4, 12). Bill Belichick is highly unlikely to risk any of his starters prior to the Sept. 8 opener at Buffalo, so the Giants game is a tailor-made opportunity for someone on the bubble to jump off and move forward - or fall off and be left behind.
"What Coach Belichick always says is, 'Our performance determines our role on the team,'" Bequette said. "I want to play as much as I can. I want those snaps and those reps as much as the other guys do, perhaps even more. That's why I do the little things every day before practice, after practice, in the weight room. I'm just trying to earn more trust from the coaches and my teammates and get more plays out there."
He said that it was definitely an eye-opener to go from being a productive player at Arkansas to someone that rarely saw the field.
"It was very different making the transition from starting a lot of games in college to being more of a situational player and learning from veterans and guys who are out there playing," he said. "It's tough to have to watch sometimes, but I know if I keep making improvement and keep making gains and enhancing my skills I'll be out there."
If he survives the final two roster reductions that must be made today before 4 p.m. - and it's a pretty good bet that he will - Bequette knows he'll have a chance Thursday to start putting the personal disappointment of 2012 behind him.
"It was definitely a learning experience," he said. "I feel like I've come a long way from this time last year and I'm just going to try to keep making those gradual improvements."