The Patriots made two moves ahead of Tuesday's deadline to trim their roster to 80 players, most notably placing second-year linebacker Ronnie Perkins on season-ending injured reserve.
Although it's unclear when exactly the injury occurred, Perkins did not participate in the first two practices as New England continues its week in Henderson, Nevada at the Raiders facility.
The 2021 third-round pick's season is now over, but it wasn't a major surprise as Perkins was on the roster bubble and struggled to separate himself from the pack at outside linebacker. Despite a sack and five quarterback pressures in two preseason games, Perkins wasn't standing out during training camp practices and was falling down the depth chart.
During a standout career at the University of Oklahoma, Perkins was a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end in the Sooners' even front scheme (4-3). With the Patriots, Perkins began transitioning to a stand-up outside linebacker role to fit into the Pats base 3-4 defense.
For many reasons, those transitions aren't easy physically or mentally. The techniques, assignments, and mental processing from a play recognition standpoint are all vastly different.
In 16 training camp practices this summer, Perkins only had a few notable plays in 11-on-11 team drills, while 2020 day-two selections Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings made a more significant impact.
As he is most summers, Uche is a disruptive pass-rusher who bolsters New England's third-down package whenever he's on the field. In a two-minute drill to end Tuesday's joint practice with the Raiders, Uche beat starting left tackle Kolton Miller for a "sack" on Derek Carr.
As for Jennings, the 2020 third-rounder is one of the surprise breakout players of camp, following an injury-plagued first two seasons in the NFL. Thanks to above-average length and playing strength, Jennings is developing into a sturdy edge-setter back on the line of scrimmage where he thrived at Alabama.
With veteran Matthew Judon performing at his usual Pro Bowl standards in practice, the Patriots have already found a rhythm and an established rotation at outside linebacker. New England has also experimented with inside linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley as a stand-up edge rusher, and Bentley had a sack in Tuesday's session working on the line of scrimmage.
Moving Perkins to season-ending injured reserve leaves the Patriots a little thin in terms of traditional outside linebackers. Perkins projected as the fourth option for the Pats, who are still a heavy odd front defense (3-4), meaning they play most downs with two stand-up edge rushers.
As we mentioned, It could open the door for Bentley to play more snaps on the edge this season, or Perkins's status could create a roster spot for undrafted rookie DaMarcus Mitchell. Mitchell's presence is mainly felt on special teams, where he's logging reps with several units in the kicking game, but he flashed late on defense last week against the Panthers (sack, two hurries).
At this stage, Perkins wasn't a sure thing to make the initial 53-man roster, and this move solidifies that Judon, Uche, and Jennings are the only roster locks at the position.
Along with placing Perkins on injured reserve, the Patriots also moved rookie offensive lineman Andrew Stueber to the reserve/non-football injury list. Stueber has not practiced yet in training camp and reportedly is recovering from an injury that he suffered while training this offseason. By rule, Stueber can return after sitting out four regular-season games, but it would be a surprise if we see the seventh-rounder from the University of Michigan this season.
The Patriots have one more major cutdown day approaching as all teams will need to trim their rosters to 53 players by 4 pm ET on August 30.