That point was right around Wednesday, when rookie running back Sony Michel still was limited in practice with a knee injury and Rex Burkhead popped up on the injury report with a concussion. The Patriots’ only fully healthy running backs to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 are James White and newcomer Kenjon Barner, both of whom are undersized.
It turns out Michel and Burkhead both made the trip to Jacksonville. It’s likely Michel makes his NFL debut Sunday, NESN.com was told. It still wouldn’t be surprising to see him tested on-field before the game.
Burkhead traveling means he’s either already passed concussion protocol or New England is hoping that happens in the final hours before Sunday’s game.
Michel, coming off a knee injury that sidelined him all preseason, and Burkhead, now recovering from a concussion and a knee injury, both should be on a pitch count if they play. If both are in uniform, they’ll likely share primary ball-carrying duties, though White, Barner and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson also could share the workload.
The Jaguars are dealing with their own running back ailments. Leonard Fournette has a hamstring injury and T.J. Yeldon hurt his ankle in practice, leading the team to sign Brandon Wilds off their practice squad. They also have change-of-pace back and returner Corey Grant.
The Patriots’ wide receiver picture is a little clearer, though still confusing. Since its last game, New England released Riley McCarron and Chad Hansen, singed Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler then released Fowler. That leaves the Patriots with Patterson, Coleman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and special teamer Matthew Slater.
Coleman could be designated inactive at 2:55 p.m. ET, however. That all depends whether the Patriots decide they need a fourth full-time wide receiver.
New England faces a tough test in the Jaguars, particularly cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Dorsett’s speed could be a key in this matchup. Since teams used Dorsett as a deep threat in the first three years of his career, cornerbacks have been giving him a cushion off the line of scrimmage. Brady has used that extra space to hit Dorsett on shallow throws. After Dorsett caugh seven passes on seven targets for 66 yards with a touchdown in Week 1, it wouldn’t be surprising if his cushion disappeared and the Jaguars elected to play him close.
If that happens, it also wouldn’t be shocking if the Patriots used Dorsett’s 4.28-second 40-yard-dash speed to take the top off the Jaguars defense.
As for punt return duties, that will come down to Barner, Patterson, Hogan, Burkhead, Coleman and safety Patrick Chung. As long as Barner didn’t mess anything up in practice, he’s the logical choice. You never know with the Patriots, though.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images