New England mercifully only has one game left to play this season, and on Sunday against the New York Jets, the Patriots are going to have a difficult time putting a complete defense on the field.
Here’s the Patriots’ current active inside linebacker depth chart:
Hall (ankle), Jennings (shoulder), Uche (foot), defensive end Tashawn Bower (neck/concussion), center David Andrews (calf) and right guard Shaq Mason (calf) all missed practice Thursday. Bentley didn’t play Monday night against the Buffalo Bills because of a shoulder injury. He was limited in Wednesday’s practice.
The Patriots have zero healthy inside linebackers on their 53-man roster. Not a single one.
Rookie linebackers Cassh Maluia and Michael Pinckney and veteran pickup Jack Cichy are on the Patriots’ practice squad. But wait, Pinckney remains suspended.
So, who’s going to start at inside linebacker Sunday against the New York Jets, assuming the Patriots don’t rush back Bentley? One option would be to move Chase Winovich from outside linebacker. Winovich has played 536 defensive snaps this season, and 91.4 percent of them have come on the line of scrimmage. He’s also played 30 snaps in the box, 10 in the slot and six out wide. He didn’t look bad in an extended role at inside linebacker in the Patriots’ Week 10 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Shilique Calhoun (29 snaps in the box) also could move for Sunday’s game.
They also could call up Maluia, who has eight defensive snaps this season, or Cichy, who joined New England early this month. Safeties Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger figure to play the majority of their snaps in a hybrid box role, as well.
It might not be pretty or ideal, but the Patriots will just have to rely on inexperienced and out-of-position options in what could look like a glorified preseason game in Week 17.
The Patriots’ questions on their offensive line with Mason and Andrews likely out are easier to answer. Here’s the Patriots’ projected starting offensive line combination:
LT Justin Herron
LG Joe Thuney
C James Ferentz
RG Michael Onwenu
RT Jermaine Eluemunor
That leaves offensive tackle Korey Cunningham and center Marcus Martin as New England’s only backup offensive lineman. Guard Ross Reynolds or offensive tackle Jordan Steckler likely will be called up off of the practice squad to fill out the depth.