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Patriots vs. Steelers: Faulk, Mayo, and Vollmer Active

Kevin Faulk will officially be returning to the field for the Patriots today.
Kevin Faulk will officially be returning to the field for the Patriots today.

The Patriots have announced their inactives for their 4:15 PM game against the Pittsburgh Steelers:

DE Jermaine Cunningham

RB Shane Vereen

QB Ryan Mallett

WR Julian Edelman

OL Donald Thomas

S Josh Barrett

LB Dane Fletcher

The biggest news today is who is active rather than who isn't.  The Patriots have three key players returning from injury: linebacker Jerod Mayo, running back Kevin Faulk, and tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

Vollmer has played just one game this season due to a lingering back injury, and he will likely be thrown back into the line-up as the starting right tackle.  Rookie Nate Solder should see snaps on both the left and right side.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo has missed the last two weeks due to a sprained MCL.  It seems as if the extra week of rest due to the bye has aided him in his return.  It will be interesting to see how the Patriots linebacker rotation works.  Brandon Spikes has been playing at a very high level as of late, and I would expect him to get the start in the mike spot, with Jerod Mayo on the weak-side and Ron Ninkovich playing the strong-side spot.  In that scenario, Gary Guyton would rotate in as the top back-up in all three spots with Dane Fletcher inactive.

The Patriots will also be playing the two players that they activated off of PUP: Kevin Faulk and defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick.  Faulk is replacing Shane Vereen on the active roster, who is a healthy scratch.  I would expect Faulk to see significant snaps as a 3rd down / change of pace back.

Also in the world of noteworthy healthy scratches is defensive end Jermaine Cunningham.  Cunningham has seen his role greatly reduced this season with the Patriots switching to the 4-3.  This is the biggest marker of his struggle to adjust to the new defense.