Injuries Cast Shadow Over Five Patriots

As reported Monday by Patriots Insider, safety Rodney Harrison (knee) and four other Patriots players were assigned to the Injured / Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Others on the list; OL Dan Koppen (Shoulder), OL Nick Kaczur (shoulder), CB Randall Gay (Ankle) and RB Patrick Pass (Hamstring). What does this mean for the Patriots? PI reveiws the impact each move will have on the team.

PUP List Additions

S, Rodney Harrison:
-- This is where things get interesting for the Patriots. Last year the Patriots placed Tedy Bruschi on the PUP list due to his lingering effects from heart surgery and a mild stroke in February of 2005. As the season got closer, and Bruschi spent more time around the team, speculation ran rampant on his possible return. Bruschi initially told everyone he was planning on sitting out the season. Instead, his thought process gradually shifted to the point he thought that maybe he'd play. Eventually it became obvious that Bruschi had every intention of playing as he cited numerous medical opinions and clearances to justify his actions.

The situation is not the same for safety Rodney Harrison. Harrison suffered major damage to three ligaments in his knee, and has a long road to recovery. Some experts claim that it takes a full year before players can really begin to trust a reconstructed knee. Harrison, who suffered the injury September 25th in Pittsburgh, has a few months left before reaching that point. Although he's on the road to recovery, he will need more time. The team's decision to put him on the PUP made perfect sense.

C, Dan Koppen:
-- Of the players on that list, the move with Koppen was expected. Although insiders tell Patriots Insider that Koppen is progressing well, it's not a good sign that he's still not recovered from a season-ending shoulder injury in 2005. Koppen not only dislocated his shoulder in a november game in Miami, he tore the rotator cuff. As a pivotal blocker who uses his upper body to steer defenders away from the ball carrier, Koppen's injury is of significant concern.

The Patriots have Russ Hochstein, (recent extension), and Gene Mruczkowski (re-signed in 05) listed as possible backups for Koppen at center. Rookie Dan Stevenson (Notre Dame) and free agent Ross Tucker (recently re-signed) also have the potential to fill in at the position. Tucker was the center in Buffalo for QB Dew Bledsoe when the Bills suffered a rash of line injuries, while Stevenson spent some time under center in the team's minicamp.

If Koppen isn't ready to go in the preseason, it would be bad news for New England. Although Hochstein filled in well for Koppen in '05, the team needs Koppen back. The running attack was stagnant last season, and part of the reason was the absence of the former BC lineman.

OT, Nick Kaczur:
-- Kaczur is ailing from a shoulder injury he suffered late in the '05 campaign (week 13 vs Miami). Although he filled in admirably at the left tackle position when Matt Light was sidelined by a leg injury, Kaczur never fully recovered from his shoulder woes during the remainder of the 2005 campaign. He spent time as an inactive and was replaced by Tom Ashworth for two of the final four games.

Fortunately for New England, Kaczur was subbing for Light who was the starter at left tackle. With Light expected to make a full recovery, and Brandon Gorin holding down the starting job at right tackle, the team can afford to give Kaczur extra time to recover.

The addition of fifth-round draft pick Ryan O'Callaghan combined with the return of Wesley Britt and the versatility of other lineman on the roster should alleviate concerns over Kaczur's absence. O'Callaghan is a load at 6-foot-7, 345-pounds, while Britt is the tallest player on the roster at 6-foot-8. Both have the size and the backgrounds from college, the question is can they translate that experience into something useful in the pros. O'Callaghan's shoulder concerns and injury history were the reason for his freefall in the Draft. If he's healthy, he could make a push for playing time.

DB, Randall Gay:
-- The situation with Gay is less clear. How he's gone from starting in the Super Bowl as a rookie to being sidelined for possibly parts of two seasons with injuries is more a testament of bad luck than other things. Gay had a nagging ankle injury in 2005. He tried to fight through it when the defense was struggling, but re-injured himself late in a game in October. His recovery was expected before training camp. The team may just be taking a cautious wait and see approach. When healthy Gay is expected to compete for a starting role at the cornerback position. Versatile enough to play corner or safety, the Patriots would like to see him back on the field at full strength.

The team re-signed Chad Scott and Artrell Hawkins, two other players who have experience at cornerback and safety. Free agent Eric Warfield was added, and is expected to compete for nickleback duties, while another free agent addition, Mel Mitchell -- a special teams ace -- is a possibility at safety.

If Gay is unable to return soon, he may have trouble getting an opportunity to compete with the other DBs on the roster. A source tells Patriots Insider that Gay should be ready to go for preseason.

FB, Patrick Pass:
-- The odd man out in the PUP list additions may be fullback Patrick Pass. Pass injured his hamstring in the second quarter of the game against the Bills in October of 2005. Pass took the handoff from Brady, took a step or two then dropped to the ground clutching at his leg. The injury sidelined the big back for four of the next six games while allowing him limited contributions the rest of the season.

If Pass is sidelined for any length of time in camp, his roster spot may be in jeopardy. New England brought back fullback Heath Evans for a second season, and added another fullback via the Draft in fourth-round pick Garrett Mills. Mills already had observers buzzing about his versatility. Although he struggled a bit in minicamp, he has the athleticism to create the same kind of mismatches as Pass, and he possesses more size than the veteran.

Evans, once thought of as a versatile back of his own, is also fighting for a roster spot. The team is unlikely to carry more than one fullback on the roster heading into the season.

Note: the PUP list additions were reported on the PI Message boards and the Patriots Insider blog. In addition to the front page, be sure to check the boards and the blog for the latest breaking news on the team.


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