FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — For months the biggest question facing the Patriots was whether Tom Brady would be on the field for the start of the 2016 regular season.
While that question has been answered, it’s not the only issue to resolve for New England’s offense as it prepares for its third preseason game.
Running back Dion Lewis has yet to appear in a training camp practice or preseason game. He had ACL surgery on his left knee in November and now reportedly could be facing a second procedure.
There are also health concerns on the offensive line. Sebastian Vollmer was expected to be the starter at right tackle, but has missed both preseason games and remains on the physically unable to perform list with an undisclosed issue.
In addition, guard Shaq Mason, who was not in uniform last week against Chicago after starting the preseason opener, reportedly has a broken hand. Lewis, Vollmer and Mason were all absent from the practice field on Monday.
Brady was also absent after not being on the sideline for his second straight preseason game. Coach Bill Belichick declined to give details, saying only “I don’t comment on any personal situations.”
What Belichick has acknowledged is that because of Brady’s upcoming four-game “Deflategate” suspension, the priority is to get Jimmy Garoppolo ready to play.
The Patriots were hoping to see Lewis, who had four touchdowns in seven games before his injury last year, ready in time for the regular season after getting him back on the field in June during their offseason program.
Losing Mason would also be a setback after he appeared in 14 games with 10 starts in 2015. The same can be said for Vollmer, a fixture on New England’s line since arriving in 2009.
“The way that we practice and the way that we play, whoever’s out there we’re ready to go,” said veteran left tackle Nate Solder, who played in just four games last season before going on season-ending injured reserve.
Asked in particular what the team loses without Vollmer, Solder said there were “so many things.”
“As a group we just have to move forward,” he said.
The most likely candidate to step into Vollmer’s spot at right tackle is Marcus Cannon. Cannon filled Solder’s left tackle role when he went down last season, and he has started the first two preseason games at right tackle.
“If they want you to play, that must mean they have trust for you to play in that position — wherever they put me,” Cannon said.
Belichick said he thinks Cannon has had a good camp so far and is capable of playing on either side of the line.
“There were other circumstances and because of his athleticism, his intelligence, his versatility, a lot of times he was the guy making the move,” Belichick said. “But I think we’ve got him in a good spot now.”
How the Patriots proceed at running back is a little more complicated, because whoever replaces Lewis will be needed in the passing game.
LeGarrette Blount has played well this preseason, but is more of a traditional ball carrier. The same is true for a player such as Brandon Bolden.
James White, in his third season out of Wisconsin, has shown ability catching the ball out of the backfield, but has had trouble at times getting in the end zone in the run game.
“I’m always gonna be myself,” White said. “Your role can change on the team each and every year. So whatever my role happens to be, I’m gonna go out there and do it to the best of my ability and just try and help this team win.”
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