One of the biggest questions the Patriots faced entering this season was their depth. That perceived weakness certainly has been challenged.
There has been a lot of “next man up” talk in Foxboro. And with Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly, Sebastian Vollmer and Rob Gronkowski gone with season-ending injures, some of those “next men” have come from unlikely places. Wilfork and Kelly’s spots has been the trickiest to fill.
First, the Patriots tried to fill those roles with Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. Then they traded for Isaac Sopoaga and attempted to run a 3-4 defense. Marcus Forston was tried along the way, Chandler Jones was used as more of an interior lineman and Andre Carter shouldered more of the load.
Finally, on Sunday, Sealver Siliga was used as a nose tackle in the Patriots’ starting 4-3 front. It remains to be seen if Siliga will stick, but for now, the third-year pro is at the top of New England’s defensive depth chart.
Check out the rest of the Patriots’ projected depth chart below.
Since Stevan Ridley fumbled in three straight games, Shane Vereen has been the starter at running back and in the third-down role. LeGarrette Blount has been the first player off the bench at running back.
Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins have been injured, but once they come back, they’re expected to rise to the top of the depth chart at the “X” receiver spot. Julian Edelman has been used as an outside receiver far more than Danny Amendola. Josh Boyce has the versatility to play outside and in the slot.
With Gronkowski out, Michael Hoomanawanui should regain the starting spot at tight end, though Matthew Mulligan has played well in his place. Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams are more “flex” tight ends, while Mulligan is more of an inline option.
Since Vollmer went down, Cannon had to take the starting role at right tackle. That has made Svitek the super sub at tackle. Logan Mankins had to play one snap at tackle when Nate Solder came out. Josh Kline played left guard. Svitek was playing right tackle at the time, and it’s possible he also would be the backup at both guard positions. He played that position in the preseason.
The Patriots have used a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme this season. Most recently, they were in the 4-3 with Chris Jones and Siliga in the middle and Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich at defensive end. On third down, Carter comes in to help rush the passer. Chris Jones stayed in at the other defensive tackle spot.
Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher all have played in a rotation at linebacker, though Collins started over Fletcher on Sunday.
Lately, Logan Ryan has played over Kyle Arrington outside, though that could be because of Arrington’s groin injury. Both players have played well.
Duron Harmon is the super sub at safety. When Gregory was out for a few weeks ago, Nate Ebner was the fourth safety off the bench over Tavon Wilson.
Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen obviously are the starters at kicker and punter, respectively. Josh Boyce has been the kick returner lately. LeGarrette Blount and Devin McCourty would be the backups there.
Julian Edelman is the starting punt returner. Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins likely would get the next reps if Edelman went down.