FOXBORO, Mass. — Based on the practice attendance so far this week, it appears likely the New England Patriots will be shorthanded up front as they attempt to keep All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller away from Tom Brady.
Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon has yet to practice since going down with an ankle injury in the Patriots’ most recent game two weekends ago, making it unlikely he’ll be healthy enough to suit up against Miller’s Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Cannon, who earned second-team All-Pro honors following his breakout 2016 season, neutralized Miller when these teams last met in December, holding him without a sack or a quarterback hit in a 16-3 Patriots victory. Miller finished last season with 13 1/2 sacks, good for second in the NFL.
If Cannon can’t go, the task of defending the Broncos star will fall to LaAdrian Waddle, who has replaced Cameron Fleming as the Patriots’ primary backup tackle.
“That’s arguably the best rusher in the league,” Waddle said Wednesday, “so going up against a guy of that caliber is a hell of a challenge. The guys up front are excited to go against (Miller). (And it’s) not just him. It’s the entire front. Those guys are good.”
Waddle played a grand total of one snap during the 2016 campaign, but he already has seen extensive action in two games this season. He started in place of an injured Cannon against the Houston Texans in Week 2, then stepped in after Cannon suffered his ankle injury against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 8.
The Texans and Chargers have two of the better pass-rushing units in the NFL, but Waddle acquitted himself well against both, allowing a total of two QB hits and zero sacks in 115 offensive snaps.
Waddle’s performance this season has allowed him to leapfrog Fleming, last year’s swing tackle, on the depth chart. He discussed his larger role after Wednesday’s practice, saying it hasn’t changed the way he prepares each week.
“Honestly, no,” the 26-year-old said. “Last year, I never really knew if I was going to get that shot to go play or not, so I wanted to be ready to go, because I knew that once I got out there, I wanted to make some things happen and stay out there. That’s kind of the point of getting out there in the first place.
“And as far as preparation, it hasn’t changed. I watch the same film. I study just as hard, take notes, all that stuff. It’s the same stuff, it’s just, now that I have that opportunity to get out there, it’s awesome, honestly.”
Miller, meanwhile, said he’s ready for whichever tackle the Patriots throw at him.
“The great part about it is I’ve played against both of these guys before,” the five-time Pro Bowler said Wednesday in a conference call with New England reporters. “I played against Waddle when he was in Detroit, and I’ve had numerous games against Cannon. I’ve played against both of these guys. … I’ve got to make sure I’m on top of my game and what I’m doing, so it doesn’t really matter who I go against.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images