The New England Patriots are in San Diego, but the back end of the team’s roster is in a state of wait.
Since linebacker Darius Fleming was promoted to the active roster following the departure of safety Don Jones and the ankle injury to incumbent special-teamer Chris White, the team’s 10-man practice squad has stood at seven. And since defensive end Chandler Jones got back on the practice field as a limited participant, along with defensive tackle Sealver Siliga following a stint on short-term injured reserve, key pieces are filtering back into place up front.
It just remains to be seen which pieces will filter into the background along with them.
Jones was listed as questionable for Green Bay, while the 21-day clock on Siliga’s return – which will require a roster opening – was clicked with his official his return to practice on Nov. 28. Yet since the Patriots fell to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, 26-21, the transaction wire has been quiet.
Monday passed without an addition, then Tuesday passed. Wednesday might follow suit.
The lull could be due to the relatively imminent return of Jones and Siliga from their respective hip and foot injuries. It could be due to the evaluation of the additional in-house injuries that transpired at Lambeau Field. It could be due to the team’s preparations for Week 14 taking place on the West Coast. It could be due to the efforts of roster flexibility.
Whatever it could be, New England has processed eight transactions since Nov. 26, but none since Nov. 29.
That is expected to change soon. Only where it will change is far less expected.
Last week, the Patriots released second-year cornerback Daxton Swanson and undrafted rookie linebacker Deontae Skinner from the practice squad. Swanson had resided there for all but 14 days in September, while Skinner had resided between the practice squad and the 53 to play in seven games and register 16 tackles along with one sack this season.
The possibility of either familiarized player returning remains the same.
There are now six cornerbacks and five traditional linebackers on the current 53-man roster. There are, however, none on the practice squad. And the two free agents New England added to the practice squad in correspondence – long snapper Charley Hughlett and rookie tight end Xavier Grimble – remained in Foxborough for just two days before being released.
It was Hughlett’s third stint with the team, and a likely byproduct of fellow snapper Danny Aiken’s concussion that left defensive end Rob Ninkovich handling the duties in Green Bay. It was Grimble’s third team since entering the league via USC in May, and second since the middle of November.
Perhaps one of them will be back. Perhaps neither will. Their exits, though, are a reflection of the bigger picture; of how many are needed at a position to practice, and how many are needed to complete an ever-fluid team.
“It’s a balance,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in August, following the NFL and NFL Players Association’s agreement to expand practice squad rosters and eligibility. “Really, it’s similar to when you pick out your 53-man roster. There are times when you end up picking a player and keep him on your roster because of the position he plays. There may be a better player at a different position but you have more depth there. You just can’t afford that extra guy. You almost need whatever it is that you need. Then I’d say the practice squad is then residual of that.”
It is residual of that. After a year which saw 19 different players fulfill an eight-man practice squad, New England has had 23 different players fulfill the 10 spots on the practice squad since the start of this September.
Only two have stayed on it through the duration.
There have been five defensive tackles, three linebackers, three offensive linemen, two defensive ends, two tight ends, two running backs, two wide receivers, one quarterback and one aforementioned long snapper.
- Quarterback: McCleod Bethel-Thompson
- Running Backs: Jonas Gray, Marcus Thigpen
- Tight Ends: Xavier Grimble, Allen Reisner
- Wide Receivers: Josh Boyce, Jonathan Krause
- Offensive Linemen: Chris Barker, Caylin Hauptmann, Chris Martin
- Defensive Tackles: Kelcy Quarles, Ben Bass, Kona Schwenke, Joe Vellano, Casey Walker
- Defensive Ends: Jake Bequette, Cameron Henderson
- Linebackers: Deontae Skinner, Darius Fleming, Ja’Gared Davis
- Cornerback: Daxton Swanson
- Safety: Kanorris Davis
- Long Snapper: Charley Hughlett
Of those 23, 14 presently find themselves on an NFL roster.
None, one, two or three may find themselves back on New England’s, but that remains to be determined. How the Patriots address the return of incumbents and the week-to-week matchup adaptation will bring forth an answer.
Until then, it’s a matter of waiting for one.