The roster shuffling continued in New England Thursday, as the team placed starting left guard Joe Andruzzi on injured reserve and signed linebacker Antico Dalton off the practice squad.
Andruzzi was injured late in the Monday night game against Kansas City when a couple plays fell on his leg at an awkward angle. He was trying to block for Kevin Faulk, who was stopped just short of the end zone on the play. Head Coach Bill Belichick said that the injury would take between 4-6 weeks to heal, meaning Andruzzi would not be able to play again this season.
To fill that roster spot, the Patriots added Dalton, 24 from the practice squad. The Hampton product came to New England on Nov. 28, the same day that fullback Chris Floyd was released. The 6-1, 240-pound Dalton, who was originally drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of the 1999 NFL draft, played in two games as a rookie, seeing playing time on special teams.
With Andruzzi unavailable, second-year player Grey Ruegamer will likely get the start at guard. Ruegamer played "alright" against the Chiefs, despite playing with a small cast on his right hand. Belichick said the Patriots are thin on the offensive line right now, and the seven linemen on the active roster will have to work at different positions during the week.
Damien Woody, Bruce Armstrong, and Sale Isaia have started all season at center, left tackle and right guard respectively. Last week Adrian Klemm made his first start at right tackle, while Ruegamer filled in at left guard when Andruzzi went out. That leaves Greg Robinson-Randall, who has played at right tackle, and Josh Rawlings, who has yet to be on the game day roster.
The team still has an open spot on its 53-man roster, and the Patriots also have a pair of guards, Adam Davis and Rob Gatrell, on the practice squad. While one or both could be called up for a look before the season is up, Belichick said the team would not sign a player just to fill the active roster because the team would likely make the player inactive for Sunday's game anyway.
The final transaction of the day saw New England sign fullback Jeff Paulk to fill Dalton's spot on the practice squad. Paulk was a third-round draft pick out of Arizona State for Atlanta in 1999. He played on the same team as Ruegamer and running back J.R. Redmond.
Jackson keeping approach simple
Rookie wide receiver Curtis Jackson made quite an impression in his first significant action for the Patriots on Monday night.
Jackson fielded the game's opening kickoff and returned it 47 yards to help set up a New England field goal. For the game he had four returns for 117 yards, good for more than 29 yards per return.
Not bad for a guy who has only been with the team since Nov. 15. Since he was signed off the St. Louis practice squad, Jackson has kept his approach to returning kicks with his new squad very simple.
"The best thing I can do is execute the play that is called," Jackson said. "It was a wedge right, and that's what I did. I followed my blockers, and it turned into a big gain. It helped create good field position for the offense. I didn't think about anything else. I just caught the ball and then I ran."
Urlacher enjoying rookie season
The Chicago Bears appear to have found a gem in linebacker Brian Urlacher. The rookie out of New Mexico is leading the Bears with 101 tackles, which is more than 20 ahead of the second guy on the list.
Urlacher got off to a slow start when the team tried to use him at the strong-side linebacker to begin the season.
"I started at Sam when I was drafted and I didn't feel very comfortable there," Urlacher said. "I didn't play well either in the preseason. I played there in the first game of the season. I didn't play a lot of snaps, but I played a lot of special teams. They moved me to Mike (middle linebacker) for the second week, and started the third week. Ever since then, I feel like I've gotten better every week. I've had a few games where I've been up and down. I feel like I've been very consistent."
With six sacks to go with his tackles, Urlacher has really adapted well to the linebacker spot. He played several positions in college, but much of his time was spent at safety.
"I mean, I played safety in college and I moved down to Sam and I wasn't used to banging with the tight end every down," Urlacher said. "I just didn't have any technique and I moved to the middle. It's just easier because I can see things inside out, just like I did in college. I have a little time to react with the linemen there. At Sam, they're on me right away. I'm sure I can learn it in time, but right away I wasn't looking very good. I think they saw that and decided to move me. At Mike, it just seems easier for me."
Azumah facing test in Glenn
Another youngster on the Chicago defense will likely have a big affect on this Sunday's game. Former University of New Hampshire star Jerry Azumah will probably start at cornerback in place of Walt Harris, who is listed as doubtful with a knee injury.
If he does indeed start, Azumah, who was converted to cornerback after a stellar college career as a running back for the I-AA Wildcats, will be matched up with Terry Glenn.
"We'll have to monitor Walt's health," Bears Head Coach Dick Jauron said. "I believe Walt is questionable for the game. If Walt can't go, then of course, Jerry would go.
"Jerry is a great young man. He's an extrmely hard worker. Clearly, he's a little bit young at the position of cornerback, but he's got unusual skills. He's been blessed with that, but he's also worked at it. He's continued to work here. He does have the physical tools at times when he gets himself in trouble, because his technique may break down. He can recover and make a play. He's got a ways to go, but he has come a long ways."
Even with Azumah's athleticism, the Patriots would seem to have the advantage on any play matching the corner with Glenn. New England would likely try to capitalize on Azumah's relative inexperience throughout the game in such situations.
Belichick said he spoke with linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer last week and is expecting the second-year man to be back with the team in the next few weeks. Katzenmoyer went on injured reserve and had surgery to repair a neck injury. Belichick said the prognosis for the Big Kat's return a good for next season… The 30 points scored against Kansas City on Monday was the most the Patriots have scored in 23 games… New England has had 10 games decided by eight points or less this year, which is just two shy of the team record.