The Patriots picked up Dane Fletcher in the offseason in large part due to the uncertainty surrounding Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo's injuries. Both players have returned to camp healthy, which is a good sign moving forward. Mayo and Hightower haven't missed a practice and look like their old selves, albeit they haven't had a padded practice yet. We won't know until the third preseason game how they are looking because backups play most of the time for the other 3 preseason games. Even though those three are arguably the best trio of linebackers in the NFL, it's never a bad idea to have quality depth behind it. For my Camp Battles series I have Darius Fleming, James Morris, and Matthew Wells making the team. That didn't include Dane Fletcher, who played for the Patriots in 2010-2013 as a backup and core special teamer.
In this Chris Price article, a league source has told WEEI that Fletcher suffered a torn ACL late in the 2014 season and will likely start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. That would explain why he was placed there last week. Fletcher previously suffered a similar injury back in the 2012 preseason and didn't return until the first preseason game of the 2013 season. There isn't a defined time table for his recovery, because I don't know when it happened and if he played with the injury. The Patriots signed Fletcher to a 1-year contract near the vet minimum with very little guaranteed money. Very often, Bill Belichick will bring back some of his former players as safety nets in case young players on the team don't develop.
The injury will open up opportunities for James Morris, Darius Fleming, and others to take reps. Of the backuplinebackers, the player whose future I'm the most bullish on is James Morris. Morris was having an excellent camp last year before suffering a torn ACL in the final preseason game. This camp, he's recovered from the injury and looks just as good. Morris received first team reps with the team in practice today and would be the guy to get the nod at middle linebacker if Mayo goes down again. Very often injuries create opportunities and there might not be a better opportunity for the younger linebackers on the roster to prove their worth than the one staring them in the face.
I'm not 100% sure what the team will do with Fletcher once he comes off the PUP list, because you can't predict injuries and when they happen. Given the physical demands for the linebackers in BB's defense, you can almost count on one of them suffering a significant injury during the season. At the same time, it might be possible that the team doesn't need him. Regardless of what happens in the future, it's always good to have a contingency plan in place because we may need Fletcher to step up in a game later in the season.