FOXBORO — Going into training camp it appeared the Patriots had solid depth at both running back and wide receiver, but now just a week in it’s a much different situation.
At wide receiver, Malcolm Mitchell and Kenny Britt haven’t stepped on the field and on Wednesday Jordan Matthews was released after suffering another hamstring injury on Sunday. At running back, Mike Gillislee is dealing with an injury that has kept him out of the last two sessions and then Sony Michel left Wednesday’s practice early due to an apparent injury.
New England has been forced to add two receivers in the last week or so — Devin Lucien and Paul Turner.
Not only is all this impacting the depth at the positions and potentially what things look like come the regular season, it’s also impacting the way training camp sessions are structured. The first six practices of the summer haven’t seen much emotion and a large part of that is there simply hasn’t been much to get emotional about.
There haven’t been as many 11-on-11 competitive periods as we’ve seen in the past and the ones we have seen, it’s been primarily running game based. With the numbers the team currently has, normal sessions would likely wear down many of the skill position players and that’s the last thing it wants to do in August.
Bill Belichick acknowledged Wednesday he changes the structure of sessions based on who is available.
“It’s common,” he said. “It’s, I wouldn’t say, daily but close because sometimes, like I said, you try to find a way to get work to the people who need it and where there’s depth. And, where you can’t sustain that workload at another position, you have to find a way to modify it.”
It can be said the issues at these two positions are having an effect on the entire team.
So, where do the Patriots go from here?
The receiver position is tricky. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Lucien and Walker are the ones who have been active on the field, but Edelman will be gone for the first four weeks. Hogan, Dorsett and Patterson are locks, but where the team goes from there remains a mystery.
Britt or Mitchell could get healthy and play roles, and don’t sleep on McCarron or Berrios. At least one of these four players will make the team and over the first four weeks the running back and tight end positions will likely be more involved in the passing game.
It seems the Patriots are interested in adding a receiver, as they reportedly worked out free agent Eric Decker, but didn’t sign him. While a new receiver with NFL experience would certainly help, it also needs to be considered that receiver would be well behind everyone else and with how complex the offense is, it needs to be asked is it even worth it, especially with Edelman coming back in Week 5?
Every running back on the roster besides James White entered the year with some injury concerns, so to see two backs be dealing with injuries isn’t a major surprise. Right now, the team has Rex Burkhead, White, Michel, Gillislee, Jeremy Hill and Brandon Bolden as options for the 53-man roster.
As long as Michel’s injury isn’t a major one, the team should be fine. Either Gillislee or Hill was likely going to get cut anyway, so it is what it is. Although if Michel is actually dealing with a major injury, that would completely change things and maybe outside reinforcements would be needed, but what productive NFL running back is available right now?
The Patriots could add players at both of these positions to give them the depth it needs for a real training camp, but it would also need to use valuable time and resources getting these players up to speed. It could also be a situation where in a few weeks they won’t even be needed.
Things certainly don’t look too good at the running back and receiver positions, but it’s too early to panic.
Wait and see what happens before making any drastic moves.