In advance of the most anticipated regular season game in NFL history, New England has made a flurry of roster moves over the past 24 hours, two of them involving the Patriots' injured reserve list.
First and foremost, in a move that almost all of us saw coming, running back and co-captain James White was placed on injured reserve Friday evening, less than a week after his devastating right hip injury during the Saints game. Though he's technically a candidate to return from IR, White's almost assuredly out for the duration of this 2021 campaign, as media reports earlier in the week suggested, given the presumed severity of his injury.
With an open spot on the active roster, the club activated wide receiver N'Keal Harry from IR, in another move that was foreshadowed by his appearance at practices this past week. In August, Harry suffered an apparent left shoulder injury diving for a deep pass during a preseason game in Philadelphia and hadn't been seen on the field until a few days ago at practice.
However, just because Harry's now back on the 53-man roster doesn't assure that he'll be active for tomorrow's game against Tampa Bay. All NFL clubs must downsize their game-day rosters to a maximum of 48 players before kickoff each week. Of course, it's possible Harry will be among those 48, but given the current logjam at wide receiver, it's far from a certainty.
Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor have all been playing considerable, relatively productive minutes on offense, with Gunner Olszewski maintaining his spot as the team's primary punt returner. It's difficult to imagine Harry displacing any of them at this point, so, the team might have to trim its roster elsewhere if the coaches want Harry to suit up versus the Bucs along with the rest of these receivers.
Meanwhile, the Patriots also exercised their right to promote a pair of practice squad players to the active roster, making it essentially a 55-man roster for the moment. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai gets the nod for the second consecutive week, and it's entirely possible he sees minutes during the game, as he did a week ago against the Saints when starter Ja'Whaun Bentley left the game with a shoulder injury.
Bentley was limited in practice all week and is listed as questionable to play tomorrow night, as are fellow linebackers Josh Uche (back) and Kyle Van Noy (groin). Tavai is in his third NFL season (previous two with Detroit) and played a significant number of games for the Lions before joining New England this season, so, at least the Patriots have some experience in Tavai if he's pressed into service again.
In addition, defensive back Myles Bryant has been promoted for this game, with numbers dwindling at that spot, too. Starting cornerback J.C. Jackson sustained a knee injury during Friday's practice and is a questionable listing for the Bucs game along with safety Kyle Dugger. The latter came down with a hamstring injury midweek that limited his practice time. Bryant, an undrafted rookie in 2020, saw a good amount of game time for the Patriots last season and is capable of stepping in either at corner or safety. His elevation makes perfect sense given the situation.
To reiterate, the Patriots will have to whittle this 55-man roster down to 48 by Sunday evening, meaning we'll have more moves to analyze in another 24 hours' time. Stay tuned.