In two days, the New England Patriots will face the Cleveland Browns in the first game after quarterback Tom Brady and edge defender Rob Ninkovich returned from their respective suspensions. The duo, even though it has not yet officially been activated to the 53-man roster, is projected to join the team Sunday.
While the return of Brady and Ninkovich undoubtably makes the Patriots better, the team is not at full strength as this week’s final injury report shows. New England is, however, still in good shape:
RB Brandon Bolden (Knee): OUT
LB Shea McClellin (Concussion): OUT
Seeing Bolden and McClellin being declared out is no surprise: the duo has not practiced this week. While neither player is at the top of his position’s depth chart, their absences put additional stress on the second and third layers of the roster. Bolden will likely be replaced by rookie D.J. Foster as the top backup running back, while McClellin’s role – he plays roughly one third of defensive snaps – might be taken over by Barkevious Mingo and rookie Elandon Roberts.
The following players are listed as questionable:
RB LeGarrette Blount (hip)
OT Marcus Cannon (calf)
WR Julian Edelman (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (right shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee)
OG Joe Thuney (shoulder)
DT Vincent Valentine (back)
Blount, Cannon, Edelman, Gronkowski, and Thuney are all starters on offense, so hopefully they will all be ready to go. If Thuney is not ready, perhaps we’ll get our first look at Jonathan Cooper- and maybe we’ll get a look at Cameron Fleming at right tackle.
Blount is likely to play since the Patriots haven’t added another rusher, even though Bolden is out.
Valentine is interesting because he hasn’t practiced all week. Usually that would earn an OUT distinction. The Patriots only have Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch as healthy defensive tackles so this position is worth monitoring. The team has two defensive tackles – Anthony Johnson, Woodrow Hamilton – on its practice squad, so a promotion might be in the books.
The Browns will be without WR Corey Coleman, C Cameron Erving, C Austin Reiter, TE Seth DeValve, TE Randall Telfer, and QB Josh McCown. The Browns are very thin at center, so look for the Patriots to dial up some blitz to challenge the third string center.
S Ibraheim Campbell, DE Carl Nassib, and CB Tramon Williams are questionable. CB Joe Haden, WR Andrew Hawkins, and LT Joe Thomas were full participants and will be active.