Defensive end Chandler Jones has missed every practice this week with a hip injury. According to a Boston Globe report, he'll miss the next month while he recovers.
In his absence, fellow starting end Rob Ninkovich made a bold prediction Friday.
"Chan obviously is a great player for us. Unfortunate that he has a little injury here, but other guys are going to have to step up. Me, myself, I'll step up and make more plays.
"Everyone's got to be smarter," Ninkovich added. "We all have to know what we're doing and have an understanding of whatever collective pass rush it's going to be and how we're going to do it."
Jones' official status for Sunday's game will be revealed with the final injury report of the week, expected late Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Ninkovich, a 9-year veteran and former co-captain, also told media that he's been trying to help newcomer Akeem Ayers get adjusted to the Patriots system in time for Sunday's Bears game at Gillette Stadium. The young outside linebacker came to Foxborough Tuesday in a trade with Tennessee.
Rushing, receiving are his Forte
Chicago running back Matt Forte is a force on the ground, but also through the air, as several Patriots defenders have acknowledged all this week.
"Most definitely. He's their leading receiver, as far as receptions," cornerback Brandon Browner pointed out.
"He's a big target for them. When you lead the NFL in receptions as a running back," Ninkovich noted, "you have to be aware of where he is on the field. If he's motioning out of the backfield, he's going to get the ball at some point. He does a lot. He's a real smooth runner, has good vision. It comes down to being solid fundamentally and everyone being tight on their responsibilities.
"As a defensive end, when you're on your way to the quarterback, if the running back's there, it would be smart to get a hit on him."
Browner getting second wind
During his Patriots regular season debut against the Jets last Thursday, Browner played a significant amount, but also was rested on the sideline for long stretches.
He admitted Friday that he's finally starting to feel like he's getting in game shape after a long week of practices.
"I think so. Yeah. Like they say, practice makes perfect. My conditioning is getting a little better as the days go by."
Browner said he was looking forward to matching up with Chicago's tall wide receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
"Guys like Marshall, he likes for [defenders] to put hands on him, so he can use that against you. He'll grab and do his tug at the line of scrimmage. It's a good matchup for me this week, me and [Darrelle] Revis."
The 6-4 Browner also conceded that he'd much prefer to go against a receiver more his size any day.
"Yeah, just because the little guys are quicker guys, and I tend to have a little problem with those guys because they can duck under my jam at times."
Branch saga continues
When DT Alan Branch was seen strolling through the Patriots locker room Thursday, it was assumed he'd signed with the club, as had been reported by several media outlets earlier in the week.
However, Branch was not at practice Friday. The team apparently made accommodations for him, providing him with a locker space (minus a nameplate) and a jersey (practice squad d-lineman Kona Schwenke changed from 97 to 69 and the 97 jersey was seen hanging in the locker where Branch was on Thursday).
As of late Friday, there had been no announced transaction involving Branch.
Asked about Branch Friday morning, head coach Bill Belichick answered, "I don't know. We work out a lot of players around here over the course of the season. So, the ones that we bring on the roster and sign we work with and the ones that we don't are there if we decide to do it."
In addition to Jones, running back Shane Vereen was absent from Friday's practice. The Boston Herald reported that Vereen was suffering from an unspecified illness.
Meanwhile, the Pariots re-signed LB Ja'Gared Davis to the practice squad. They had two open spots available there at the start of the day.