Throughout the second half of the 2015 season, health has been the top story and primary concern for the Patriots. And just when it appeared New England was rounding a corner in that regard, another obstacle appears to have emerged.
All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was not on the field Tuesday when the Patriots came out for their second practice of the week, a full-pads session that came after a spirited, two-hour-plus workout on Monday. Gronkowski was in uniform Monday, and it remains unclear why he wasn't on the field today.
Normally, we would receive some sort of indication on the practice participation/injury report. It could very well wind up that it was not an injury or illness that kept Gronkowski off the field Tuesday, but because of the NFL's utterly illogical procedures regarding when those documents are released, we won't have any definitive news about the reason for his absence until at least Wednesday.
Regardless, the fact that Gronkowski – one of New England's and the NFL's best players – was unable to practice at all should be a concern for the Patriots as they prepare to host the Kansas City Chiefs this Saturday in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
Linebacker/co-captain Jerod Mayo was also not spotted Tuesday, and he, too, was in action on Monday. On a positive note, safety Nate Ebner managed to suit up, despite still sporting a cast on his right arm. He had missed two straight sessions dating back to last week.
Jackson ready for action
Now in his fourth week with the Patriots, veteran running back Steven Jackson is anxious to see playoff action this weekend. Initially, he acknowledged that his main focus was on learning the team's playbook and play-calling vernacular, but he claims he now feels comfortable with that aspect of his job and is ready to take on a larger role in the offense, if called upon.
"The last two or three weeks have been a whirlwind," he admitted, "but getting ready for this week, realizing the opportunity ahead of me, is one I'm well-prepared for… At this point, I do feel comfortable with the language of the offense.
"I don't have the most playoff experience around here," Jackson conceded, "but to me, the game of football boils down to being able to execute and do your job. To do that requires a great week of preparation. I've always prided myself on being able to do that. The stakes are high. This is probably the last opportunity that I'll have a significant chance of heading to the Super Bowl."
Playoff preparation is serious business, especially around this organization. But that doesn't mean there aren't light-hearted moments to be found now and again.
One of those occurred Tuesday, when DE/co-captain Rob Ninkovich – as proud and potent a beard-grower as the Patriots have on their roster – was asked to remark on wide receiver Julian Edelman's thick but unkempt facial hair.
Ninkovich, who's beard is always in season, joked that his teammate can't afford to go fully-bearded full time because of his penchant for posing for professional photographers.
"It's not a full effort. He's taken too many pretty-boy pictures throughout the year for him to rock the full beard all year," Ninkovich grinned.
Ninko, by the way, says he hasn't shaved since the last weekend in July, when training camp began.
New England made a few changes to its practice squad Tuesday. There had been just nine players on the maximum 10-man unit, but now the roster is full after the Patriots signed a pair of rookies. Wide receiver J.J. Worton had recently been on the St. Louis Rams' practice squad. Safety Cedric Thompson was a Miami Dolphins draft pick who did not see any regular-season action.
In order to keep the practice squad to 10 men, as required by the NFL, the Patriots had to release a player, and it appears that was rookie WR DeAndre Carter, who's been on the squad the past few weeks, but who was not on the field Tuesday.