New England Patriots Preseason: Key Players Not Expected to Play Tonight
Following week-long inter-squad practices, the Saints and Patriots have gotten pretty decent looks at one another. But several key features to New England's 2012 unit will be unable to play as a result of injuries sustained throughout training camp. Some Patriots are even still nursing ailments from last season.
Let's take a look at who isn't expected to take the field at 7:30 p.m.
Heading into his third year, Brandon Spikes was hoping to put his injury-plagued past behind him, but it appears he hasn't gotten over that hurdle quite yet.
Spikes missed yet another practice on Wednesday for undisclosed reasons, and as a result, he is unlikely to play in the Patriots' preseason opener. He passed his physical in July after having his knee scoped in February, but the grind of early camp contact has obviously taken a toll on his body.
His absence likely opens up more opportunities for rookie Dont'a Hightower and Dan Fletcher, as Tracy White is also expected to sit.
Spikes, 24, has missed a total of 12 games since his selection in the 2010 draft and has only managed 14 starts over his first two seasons. If these issues continue, New England's selection of Hightower may become more and more important.
Field Yates of ESPNBoston lists Branch as the only wideout not expected to participate in tonight's action, but he wasn't included on the absence list compiled on Wednesday. Regardless, it wouldn't be a surprise if he sat out considering his age, experience and injury history.
Branch isn't frail, but had significant trouble staying healthy in Seattle. He's luckily avoided the injury bug through the majority of his second stint with the Patriots so far, though. His exclusion from the game may very well be for precautionary reasons.
New England also has plenty of skilled players at the position, and we're not going to learn anything new about Branch in a preseason contest. It's probably best that he rests.
Donte Stallworth, who many believe is in direct competition with Branch for a roster spot, now has an opportunity to shine.
Surprise, the Patriots' right tackle is on the shelf again. I'm sincerely hoping Sebastian Vollmer's extended absence in camp is the team's way of insuring his long-term health.
He was placed on the active/PUP list to begin training camp after having two separate surgeries in the offseason to address issues in his troublesome back and ankle.
Supposedly, the ankle isn't the main concern despite the fact Vollmer was seen limping throughout a rehab workout. He most recently had a "small procedure" done on his back, as reported by the Boston Globe.
Vollmer missed the entire 2006 season at the University of Houston, when he underwent major back surgery. He missed all but six games last season and will need a strong year in 2012 to earn a contract extension.
Vollmer's absence in 2011 opened the door for rookie Nate Solder to start immediately. With the 17th overall pick sliding over to the left side, Marcus Cannon now has a legitimate shot to nab the right tackle job.
No updates to provide on the Brian Waters saga other than one piece of speculation.
Waters was indeed listed as the starter on the Patriots' unofficial depth charts, which are league-mandated at this time of the year.
The six-time Pro-Bowler is under contract and was excused from mini-camps and the start of training camp. He's likely planning to return for the start of the regular season after enjoying every second of the offseason with his family.
Logan Mankins, like the aforementioned Spikes and Vollmer, underwent offseason sugery. His return date is still up in the air, and he'll remain on the active/PUP list until his ACL is fully recovered.
The ligament was said to be only partially torn, which has led to optimism for his availability in the regular season opener. With Mankins and Waters out and with the retirement of Robert Gallery, the Patriots are left quite thin at guard.
Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell should get plenty of work moving forward, and both have looked quite impressive throughout camp. The next-man-up philosophy is in full swing.
Among the players with undisclosed injuries is free-agent acquisition Jonathan Fanene.
He was also listed by ESPNBoston on their Wednesday absence list, which more or less insures he'll be MIA versus the Saints.
New England looks to be installing a heavy rotation on the defensive line, and Fanene has impressive interior-rushing skills. When healthy, he should be able to carve out a productive role amongst a talented and deep front seven.
According to ESPNBoston, the following players are also expected to miss the preseason opener:
FB Spencer Larsen
TE Daniel Fells (Active/PUP)
TE Visanthe Shiancoe
TE Jake Ballard (Active/PUP)
T Matt Kopa
T Kyle Hix
T Kyle Hill
T Markus Zusevics (Active/NFI)
G Brian Waters (did not report)
G Dustin Waldron
DT Ron Brace
DT Gerard Warren
DT Myron Pryor (Active/PUP)
LB Tracy White
CB Alfonzo Dennard
As you can see, the offensive line is of major concern and will need to be addressed. The Patriots play three of their four preseason games within a 10-day window.
Extra reps for players like Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon aren't necessarily a bad thing, but there can certainly be too much of a good thing this early on.