FOXBORO, Mass. — Safety Josh Barrett has a hard black cast on his right thumb to show for his first start as a member of the Patriots. This week, he'll share in the responsibility of containing Chargers All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates.

Barrett was fourth on the Pats with four tackles against the Dolphins, and he practiced Wednesday, signifying the thumb injury won't keep him out of action this weekend.

That's important because Barrett adds a different dimension to the safety position. He's got high-level athleticism, and he's 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, which likely makes him one of the biggest safeties in the NFL. Barrett actually played some linebacker in nickel packages during his two-plus seasons in Denver.

He's also used to seeing Gates, since the Broncos squared off with the Chargers twice per year. Barrett said the Broncos had a number of schemes to stop Gates, and he had some one-on-one responsibilities against the tight end.

"He's a super dynamic guy," Barrett said. "He's great in the pass game, obviously, and you know he can pretty much do it all. [Chargers quarterback Philip] Rivers loves throwing him the ball, obviously. He's great at the line of scrimmage. He can do a lot of things to keep that offense moving, so it's a challenge. It's a challenge every week, but this week in particular because of how dynamic he is in core and when he's split out."

The Patriots have traditionally mixed up their coverages against big-time tight ends to keep them out of the offensive flow, mostly because the position acts as a confidence-builder for quarterbacks. Last year, the Pats chipped Gates at the line, double teamed him and rotated a number of players in his area. This week will give Barrett his first opportunity to make an impact in that type of game plan.

"We definitely have to do the most that we can do to get him contained and to neutralize him because he's a go-to guy for Rivers," Barrett said. "We're going to be doing a lot this week to make sure that we do as much as we can to make sure he's somewhat contained."