Amid a thunderstorm that brought tornado warnings for Southern New England, the Patriots made a flurry of transactions on what was one of the busiest non-game-day Saturday evenings at Gillette in quite some time.
Where to begin? Perhaps with the biggest news – literally and figuratively. Offensive tackle Trent Brown is back from injured reserve and figures to be part of yet another O-line variation (there've been several of them this season) tomorrow against Cleveland. Brown is expected to see his first game action since Week 1, when he injured his right calf against Miami on the game's opening drive. But Brown has been practicing in recent days and apparently the team feels he's fit to dress again for a game.
Where exactly Brown might fit in remains to be seen, but his addition to the mix gives New England several more options with which to work. He began the season at right tackle, but in his previous stint with the club (2018), he was the team's starting left tackle. Given all the movement we've seen among players across the New England offensive line this season, it's anyone's guess if Brown will stay at tight tackle or go back to the left side.
Wherever he goes, it'll mean someone else will be shuffling spots, maybe even more than one other O-lineman. Could Mike Onwenu, the Patriots right tackle the past three games, go back to his usual left guard spot? If so, Ted Karras goes back to the bench as a valuable interior backup? If Brown is inserted on the left side, does current starter Isaiah Wynn slide over to left guard or elsewhere? Such questions won't be answered till just before kickoff tomorrow.
The rest of the news isn't so good for the Patriots, as they had to relegate linebacker Jamie Collins to IR after he injured an ankle during last week's game in Carolina. Collins, in his third stint with the club, hasn't had much of an impact since arriving in Week 5, but made a tremendous interception versus the Panthers last week which will likely be one of the team's most memorable plays of this season.
This comes as somewhat of a surprising development, although Collins didn't practice all week, nor did two other players who won't suit up for the Browns game Sunday. Kick/punt return special Gunner Olszewski and running back Damien Harris both suffered concussions in Charlotte a week ago. Rookie rusher Rhamondre Stevenson also was concussed and didn't practice all week, but his status for Sunday has yet to be determined. Whether or not Stevenson dresses, second-year player J.J. Taylor figures to have more of a role in this game, both at running back and perhaps at Olszewski's spot. Taylor wasn't active last week in Charlotte (coaches' decision), so, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers filled in as the team's punt returner when Olszewski went down. Perhaps he does so again this week, but Taylor is a viable option there as well.
At running back, New England's numbers are thin, meaning veteran Brandon Bolden is probably going to see considerable action as well. The Patriots have no ball carriers to promote from the practice squad. Instead, the team elevated tight end Matt LaCosse and defensive lineman Tashawn Bower. As we mentioned, with running back numbers at a premium, New England's offense might need to feature more two- and three-tight end sets, which would help explain LaCosse's activation.
As always, the Patriots are only just getting started with pre-game maneuvering. They'll have to deactivate several more players on Sunday morning to reduce their active roster to 48 game-eligible players. We'll examine those moves when they come around 11:30 tomorrow morning.