Monday, October 13, 2014

Mayo, Ridley done for season, Patriots may have solutions in-house

The injury bug can be a harsh and cruel bedfellow to a team with championship aspirations - just ask anyone associated with the New England Patriots.

Injuries are part of the game, and there are precious few vocations in the world that endorses that cliche - but even with the knowledge that a twist that way or a step this could end a players' season is the terrible reality that all players sign on for to play in the National Football League, and the Patriots have had their fair share of misfortune.

Sunday's rousing victory over the Buffalo Bills came at a high price, as the Patriots' training staff had enough injuries to deal with to set up a mobile triage unit, complete with the dreaded meat wagon, essentially a golf cart modified to bear the length and girth of injured 300 pound men and their attending physician...
Gray earned a shot at this opportunity in training camp

...and when the cart comes out, a player, the coaches, the fans and the media has a pretty good idea that the somber ride down the tunnel is the last that they will see of that player on the field for a while - and sometimes they never return.

So when defensive captain and signal caller linebacker Jerod Mayo was loaded onto the wagon and wheeled off, he knew his season was over.  So did his teammates, who gathered around and offered their encouragement to a man that they knew they would sorely miss on the field of battle.

But not all season ending injuries require the slow roll, proven on Sunday when running back Stevan Ridley gimped to the training room with a torn ACL and a torn MCL in his right knee. The team wasted no time in scheduling surgery for the power back, and he is done for the season.

Ridley's knee injury is a more common malady than what Mayo has suffered - reportedly a ruptured Patella Tendon, an injury that more often times than not includes a concomitant ACL tear and one that has a time table from surgery to full recovery in about nine months.

Typically, the affected athlete can start to flex the knee at around the six week mark and begin running at around the six month mark, so it is a long, long protracted process that may last into training camp of 2015 and beyond.

So with the players in question well cared for, albeit in pain and not particularly ambulatory, the focus turns to how the Patriots replace the services of their fallen warriors, and while the team is more prepared for the long-term repercussions of season-ending injuries as they were when the bug ripped a hole in the middle of their defense last season, it's still going to be difficult to make up for their losses.
White will get his shot to contribute with Ridley on the shelf

At least with Ridley, the answer is likely on the roster.

Shane Vereen will probably see more snaps and carries on Thursday night, given the short turnaround and abbreviated preparation time, which also means that rookie James White will be on the 46 man game day roster along with Brandon Bolden to supplement a ground game that will be facing the top-ranked run defense of the New York Jets.

But in the 10-day break that the team has following the tilt with the Jets, it will interesting to see if Belichick tries to bring in a veteran power back via free agency or a trade, or if he calls up 6' 0", 235 pound Jonas Gray from the practice squad.  Gray had a breakout performance in the preseason and was the Patriots' best back in camp, yet he ended up cut and resigned to the squad.

Of course, the perfect replacement would have been LeGarrette Blount, who bolted for Pittsburgh in the offseason with a promise for more playing time, but is now floundering on the Steelers' depth chart to the tune of six carries a game as the backup for work horse Le'Veon Bell, so the next best thing is Gray, who displayed Blount-like plodding in the preseason as well as perhaps a bit more speed.

Replacing Mayo will prove to be more difficult, because the team is not just replacing a weak side linebacker, but also the veteran presence of their defensive captain and signal caller.
Fleming has some cover skill and is excellent at setting the edge

Perhaps the trials that middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower endured last season in taking over for Mayo when he tore a pectoral muscle can now officially be viewed as a blessing in disguise, the experience gained in leading a defense void of veteran leadership tapped for the greater good now that Mayo is gone.

The roster spot vacated by Mayo will surely be filled with another linebacker, as depth has become an issue - and there could be worse options than third-year man Darius Fleming, who has taken a leadership role on the practice squad and showed a ton of grit in playing mostly every snap in the preseason.

Fleming is a weak side defender with cover ability combined with an uncanny ability to play the screen and set the edge.  Steve Beauharnais has just been signed to the Washington Redskins' practice squad, and since players on the squad are considered free agents, Belichick would have every right to poach him away from Washington if need be, but would have to keep him on the active roster for a minimum of three weeks.

Word also has it that the Patriots worked out a number of linebackers on Monday, so there seems to be no lack of options for Belichick to choose from in attempting to fill the weak side linebacker spot for the second consecutive season.

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