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Injuries leave Patriots short-handed

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Stop me if you have heard this before, but injuries are a part of life in the NFL. In fact — cliche alert — professional football is a battle of attrition.

But that battle generally doesn’t become an issue in the first two weeks of training camp.

Unfortunately for head coach Bill Belichick, that’s what has been happening through the first two weeks of training camp with the New England Patriots.

The defending Super Bowl champions have watched the list of players missing practice grow on nearly a daily basis, with an abundance of big names and key projected contributors sidelined to various ailments early in August.

New England opened the summer with nine players on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and another four on the non-football injury (NFI) list.

By the second week of camp, the Patriots were seeing more than two dozen of their 90 players sitting out practice. It included key faces such as running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receivers Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson, tight end Scott Chandler and a litany of lesser knowns.

One part of the issue, according to Belichick, is that in winning the Super Bowl the Patriots played much later into the winter than most teams.

That extended season cuts down on the time players have to deal with existing injuries and offseason procedures.

That’s clear for a team that still has six players on either PUP or NFI approaching Thursday night’s preseason opener in Foxborough against the Green Bay Packers.

“That’s really been a big challenge for us over the last 15 years,” Belichick said of the shorter offseason. “It’s a good problem to have.

“Obviously, you want to play long into the season, but it definitely shortens the time period for the players to recover and be ready for the next year, particularly the ones who have more significant injuries — surgeries, depending on what the surgery is. But some type of ligament repair-type surgeries, sometimes those things take a little bit longer.

“Our timeframe there is a lot of times a month to six weeks less than where some other teams are, and then that affects us on this end of it, particularly in the training camp period. Usually most of those players are ready by September, but the end of July start versus the early September start, that kind of six-week gap there is a lot of times the difference between players being ready in September versus ready in August. The problem is in September they may not be in the full training period that a player who is healthy is coming into training camp. So, it’s definitely something that we’ve had to deal with through the years.

“And obviously this year, we have whatever it is, nine players on PUP, and we’re into the second week of August. So, we still have a number of guys we’re dealing with, and some guys are practicing who have been fully cleared to practice, but they’re not 100 percent yet.”

Other guys are getting banged up in practice. Tackle Nate Solder was added to that list on Monday, leaving practice early. Others, such as defensive tackle Alan Branch and wide receiver Matthew Slater made their summer debuts.

Still, the coaches have been juggling various personnel groups and various lineups. The offensive line has been so thin that the group lining up in front of Tom Brady of late has a combined zero career starts.

Not ideal, by any means, but something that can be worked through, according to Belichick.

“Each day we take what we have and go through the practice schedule,” Belichick said. “Sometimes we have to modify the schedule. Usually, it’s just more managing the reps and figuring out how to get done what we need to get done. It’s pretty common on our team and every team to deal with that to some degree.”

The offensive line, receiving corps and backfield are particularly thin these days in practice, with the preseason opener on the horizon.

As Belichick might say, it is what it is.

–Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was not placed on PUP to open training camp after offseason shoulder surgery, but the veteran starter is not completely healthy. The German-born blocker has not yet taken part in full team practice action or done a ton of hitting to open the summer, other than a couple days of recent 1-on-1 battles.

“I do what I can do with trainers and coaches and strength staff and whatever,” Vollmer said of his limited work to open training camp. “I do what they tell me to do. I can’t really do much about it, so that’s what I do.”

–Quarterback Matt Flynn was released on Monday. The veteran signed with the Patriots in June and was on the field for the final few practices of the spring. But he opened training camp on NFI and had not practiced as the team approached its preseason opener needing to add a healthy body on the quarterback depth chart.

–Quarterback Ryan Lindley was signed on Monday and practiced in the afternoon in Foxborough. The former Arizona Cardinals player, who started a playoff game for Arizona last January, gives the Patriots a third option behind Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo heading into the preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday.


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