FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quarterback Cam Newton is back on the field for New England today after sitting out the previous game following a positive COVID-19 test. This much was expected after Newton returned to the practice field last week.
Yet, for the second consecutive game, New England must decide how it will handle its offensive line operation without starting right guard Shaq Mason. Unavailable due to a calf injury in the previous game, Week 4 at Kansas City, Mason continued to deal with that same issue in recent practices ever since. Saturday, though, the NFL's transaction wire indicated that the Patriots placed Mason and two other Patriots on the Reserve/COVID-19 list (RB Sony Michel and DE Derek Rivers were the others). This, just a day after placing center James Ferentz on that same list.
Who will step in to fill Mason's spot at right guard today versus Denver? The most likely options include rookies Mike Onwenu, Justin Herron, and second-year man Hjalte Froholdt. Onwenu started at right guard in place of Mason against the Chiefs, while Herron filled in for starting right tackle Jermaine Eluemenor (late scratch reportedly due to migraine headache) at K.C.
However, the Patriots must also decide who plays center, with regular starter and co-captain David Andrews still on Injured Reserve with a hand injury. Ferentz started at Kansas City two weeks ago, while left guard Joe Thuney filled in three weeks ago versus the Las Vegas Raiders. Since Ferentz is not an option at the moment, Thuney likely will slide back over to center, with Onwenu perhaps taking over Thuney's left guard slot, as he did versus Vegas.
Moments ago, the Patriots deactivated five other players for today's matchup with the Broncos, although none would seem to have much of an impact on the overall game day roster, with the possible exception of QB Brian Hoyer, who now appears to have slipped down to third on the depth chart at his position. Second-year player Jarrett Stidham will now assume the backup role to Newton.
Of note, though, rookie TE Dalton Keene continues to wait to make his NFL debut. He's once again a healthy scratch (not listed on the injury report) and has been inactive for all five games thus far in 2020.
Meanwhile, Denver's offense will miss the playmaking abilities of TE Noah Fant, limited all this past week in practices with an ankle issue, and rookie receiver K.J. Hamler, who was ruled out Friday with a hamstring issue that prevented him from practicing at all last week. Starting running back Melvin Gordon is also out for today's game. Broncos coach Vic Fangio indicated that Gordon was dealing with a non-coronavirus-related illness this week, but his DUI charge earlier in the week may also have played a factor in this decision.
Without those three key pieces to the Broncos offense, New England's defense will have even more of an advantage in limiting what QB Drew Lock, the likely starter, can do to move the football.