Another day, another roster issue in Foxborough.
The New England Patriots will be without two more key contributors moving forward, starting running back LeGarrette Blount and talented defensive tackle Dominique Easley.
Blount will be shut down with a hip injury and Easley, who has a history of knee injuries dating back to his time at the University of Florida, succumbed to a thigh issue this time. The Patriots currently have 16 different players on various reserve lists, including IR, NFI (non-football injury) and PUP (physically unable to perform, headlined by Tom Brady’s weak-side pass protector, left tackle Nate Solder and talented third-down back Dion Lewis.
Meanwhile, Brady’s best receiver, Julian Edelman, is still taking up space on the active roster with the hope he can make it back for the postseason from his broken foot.
If you do the quick match, that’s 30 percent of an NFL roster not available to Bill Belichick.
Somehow the Patriots are getting razed in the war of attrition but figuring out how to win football games, standing tall at 11-2 through Week 14 and possessing the inside track for the No. 1 spot in the AFC.
With Blount now joining Lewis on the shelf, the Pats have now lost their entire preferred backfield with Blount handling the heavy lifting on first and second downs and Lewis creating the matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties on third. Easley, on the other hand, was starting to create some noise as an inside pass rusher on what has been a very good defense with two sacks and 10 quarterback hits.
For now Brandon Bolden will take over Blount’s role in the backfield and James White is the Lewis stand-in, but don’t sleep on former Denver running back Montee Ball, who was just signed to the practice squad.
Ball, a former second-round pick, appeared in 21 games with three starts over his two years in Denver, totaling 731 yards and five touchdowns on 175 carries, and New England obviously has a history of getting the most out of talented players that have flamed out elsewhere.
Belichick seemed to have confidence in Bolden when speaking to reporters Monday.
“Brandon has got a real good skill set,” the coach said. “He has been a valuable guy for us on all four downs, so whether it’s carrying the ball, making tough yards, playing as a sub back and playing in the kicking game, he’s shown a lot of versatility and given us a lot of quality plays in all those situations. …He’s got good quickness. He’s got the ability to break tackles in space with his playing strength but he also has quickness to make guys miss out there, too.”
Despite all of that the Patriots were also kicking the tires on veteran back Steven Jackson by Wednesday, according to ESPN. The 32-year-old Jackson once had eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and has a history with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels when both were with St. Louis.
Source says #Patriots meeting today with RB Steven Jackson based on mutual interest. Pats need a RB and Jackson played for OC Josh McDaniels
— Ed Werder (@EdwerderRFA) December 16, 2015
The Easley injury is probably a little easier to take only because the Patriots sport impressive depth on their defensive front.
That said, the continued body blows almost have to take their toll at some point.
Remember New England started 10-0 before losing two in a row after all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski went down late in the game against Denver. Gronk was able to return against Houston on Sunday night and the Patriots got back to their winning ways.
Whether that continues through Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara is up for debate, but if Belichick and Brady are each eventually fitted for their fifth ring, it should go down as their most impressive accomplishment to date.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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