BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots have not made it official just yet, but we won’t be seeing running back Stevan Ridley or linebacker Jerod Mayo take the field again this season.
Both reportedly suffered season-ending injuries during Sunday’s 37-22 win over the Buffalo Bills, leaving the Patriots scrambling a bit with a short week to prepare for their Week 7 matchup against the New York Jets.
Bill Belichick explained on Monday how difficult it will be to replace Mayo, a captain and leader of the New England defense. Not only does he lead the team in tackles with 59, but he wears the “green dot” communication helmet and is essentially the quarterback of the defense. Filling his shoes will be no easy task, especially with New England’s lack of overall depth at linebacker. More pressure will now fall on second-year linebacker Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury.
In Ridley’s case the Patriots have Shane Vereen, who can up his workload to fill the void, but where he’s best is in the passing game. Without Ridley, the Patriots don’t have a pure runner out of the backfield, one who can rack up a lot of yards in a hurry the way the fourth-year back was doing until reportedly tearing his ACL and MCL in Orchard Park, New York.
But the Patriots have always preached that “next man up” mentality, and whoever they plug in to replace Mayo and Ridley will be expected to perform and do their job the rest of the way. Whether they go out and sign a new body at either position or go with guys currently on the roster, the Patriots will figure out a way to alleviate both losses.
Here are six possible players — three linebackers and three running backs — already on the roster who could help fill the voids.
The 23-year-old was signed as a rookie free agent in May after being a three-year starter at Mississippi State. He’s recorded 10 tackles so far this season, with six of those coming against the Bills after Mayo went down.
He also had a sack of Kyle Orton on Sunday, charging up the middle and hitting the statuesque quarterback. Skinner has experience with the defense so far this season, so he’s the most-likely of band-aids for the linebacker corps.
Now in his fourth NFL season, White (also a Mississippi State alum) was claimed off waivers by the Patriots last September. He played in 16 games in 2013, mostly on special teams, finishing with one defensive tackle and nine on special teams.
In 44 career NFL games, White has 32 combined tackles. He’ll likely remain on special teams, but could be asked to rotate in and out at linebacker depending on how other possible replacements play.
Currently on the practice squad, if the Patriots want to activate another linebacker for Thursday night he would be the prime candidate. A fifth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2012 out of Notre Dame, he made the Patriots’ 53-man roster to start the season but was released after Week 1 and signed to the practice squad.
There’s been a lot of chatter about the Patriots bringing back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is working his way to full health after a training camp injury led to his release by the Bengals. But in Bolden, the Patriots already have a serviceable runner in place of Ridley.
Patriots fans know what Bolden has to offer. In 28 games in New England he has rushed for 570 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. While he didn’t play much running back in the preseason, he made a name for himself as a key contributor on special teams, which has carried over to the regular season.
Bolden is a big back who can pick up yards up the middle, so he will likely be called upon a lot Thursday night with rain in the forecast. In the long-term, the Patriots will have to weigh which Bolden is more important: Bolden on special teams or whatever Bolden gives them out of the backfield.
That’s where the next guy on this list comes into play.
A fourth-round pick by the Patriots out of Wisconsin, White turned some heads during training camp. But the rookie hasn’t found a way into the offense,
White does have three carries this season for 21 yards, all coming in New England’s blowout loss to the Chiefs. While Vereen and Bolden may be the primary guys the Patriots go with on Thursday night, White could see an expanded role in the offense as the season progresses — if he earns it.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spoke about White on Monday, praising the rookie’s hard work so far this season.
“James works hard in practice and has been prepared each week, had an opportunity in the Kansas City game to go in there and touch the ball a little bit, did a nice job. We have confidence in all our guys,” said McDaniels. “This is the norm for the National Football League, and our job is to have the guys that are here ready to go, and they’ll certainly work hard to do that. We have a lot of confidence that they’ll do the job we need them to do.”
Gray is currently on the New England practice squad, his third team since signing with the Dolphins as a rookie free agent in 2012. He spent that entire season on the PUP list, and spent 2013 on the Baltimore practice squad.
Gray was a four-year letterman at Notre Dame, recording 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in his time with the Irish. If Vereen, Bolden, White can’t carry the load, Gray may get a shot off the practice squad.
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