After the top pick limped off from a special teams drill during joint practice work with the Texans on Wednesday in West Virginia, ESPN reports that the Patriots fear that rookie defensive end Derek Rivers may have suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Rivers was injured in kickoff coverage action and then attended to by trainers, with the medical staff's evaluations including typical ACL injury tests.
The injury is another blow to an already razor-thin depth at the defensive end position. The spot lost rotational players Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency, while mainstay veteran Rob Ninkovich announced his retirement shortly after the opening of training camp.
With Rivers now seemingly out of the mix, the remaining options on the roster at defensive end are led by Trey Flowers. Beyond the third-year veteran who led the team with seven sacks last fall, New England has an on-going battle for reps between trade addition Kony Ealy, returner Geneo Grissom, rookie Deatrich Wise Jr., early-camp signing Caleb Kidder and recent undrafted rookie roster addition Keionta Davis.
Wise showed the most early potential from that group, but has been sidelined with a head injury since early on in the preseason opener against Jacksonville. Ealy has been slow to earn high-end reps in his first summer in New England, this after being healthy but held out from the first day of training camp.
Rivers' injury also makes him the third of the team's four draft picks to be sidelined with injury this August. Beyond Wise's head issue, tackle Tony Garcia has now missed more than a week of preseason time to an unknown injury.
The injury to Rivers makes defensive end easily the most dubious position on the Patriots roster at this still-early point in the process. It would seem likely that New England will need to look into adding talent to the spot, be that through a free agent addition such as veteran Dwight Freeney or through a possible trade. There is also the possibility that players from other positions could be asked to step into more of a defensive end role, including linebacker Dont'a Hightower (who remains on PUP) or a defensive tackle such as Lawrence Guy.
In the end, though, the reported season-ending injury is clearly a disappointment for an impressive young athlete who was coming off a strong week of work that saw him flash off the edge in the preseason opener against Jacksonville as well as in joint work with Houston in West Virginia.
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