FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – All week, we've been monitoring the health of New England's backfield, where two Patriots have been nursing concussions suffered last week in Charlotte. With veteran Damien Harris ruled out on Saturday (along with return specialist Gunner Olszewski, also concussed versus the Panthers), that left us wondering until this morning about rookie Rhamondre Stevenson's status.
Turns out, he's been cleared of concussion protocols and will suit up today versus the Browns. How much action he'll see, though, remains uncertain, as he didn't take a snap in practice all week. The running back burden likely falls to veterans Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor. The latter could also be utilized in Olszewski's role on special teams.
Meanwhile, tight end Jonnu Smith, who's been playing the past few games with a bad shoulder, has been sidelined for this game. That would explain the practice squad promotion yesterday of veteran Matt LaCosse. New England has featured several multiple tight end packages this season, which also makes the activation of Devin Asiasi for today's game a sensible move with Smith on the shelf. Asiasi had been a healthy scratch on game days heretofore in 2021.
Offensive tackle Trent Brown is also going to suit up for the first time since Week 1, when he injured his right calf. How much action he'll see, and where, is something we'll not know until the game kicks off.
New England's linebacker corps has also been dinged up of late. Most recently, the club sent Jamie Collins to injured reserve on Saturday because of an ankle issue that occurred in last week's win over Carolina. The other veterans who contribute on a regular basis are also dealing with their own injuries: Ja'Whaun Bentley (ribs), Dont'a Hightower (ankle), and Kyle Van Noy (groin). All three will be in uniform today, however.
In addition to Smith, Harris, and Olszewski, the remaining four deactivated Patriots are not surprising, and all healthy scratches (not listed on the injury report): quarterback Jarrett Stidham, guard Yasir Durant, rookie cornerback Shaun Wade, and rookie edge rusher Ronnie Perkins. Wide receiver N'Keal Harry (knee), inactive versus the Panthers last weekend, will be active for this Browns game.
In Cleveland all week, the focus has also been on the Browns' backfield, where starting ball carrier Nick Chubb hadn't been able to practice. Chubb didn't look at all impacted by COVID-19 last week in Cleveland's drubbing of division rival Cincinnati (137 yards, two touchdowns), but tested positive for the virus shortly thereafter. So did rookie rusher Demetric Felton, and neither man will play today versus New England. Meanwhile, productive veteran Kareem Hunt remains on Cleveland's injured reserve list, so, he's a non-factor for today's game as well.
Veteran D'Ernest Johnson likely gets the start at running back for the Browns. It should be noted that he filled in once for Chubb et al earlier this season and took full advantage of his opportunity, piling up 146 yards and a score against the Denver Broncos. As insurance, though, the Browns called up a pair of running backs from their practice squad this weekend.
If that wasn't enough of a concern for Cleveland, Browns big-play wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones was excused from taking part in Thursday and Friday practices for what the club dubbed a personal matter. However, Peoples-Jones will be available for Cleveland today.