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Hannable: Are there some questions with Patriots considering season-opener is almost 2 weeks away?

Ryan Hannable
August 22, 2017 - 9:20 am

FOXBORO — Let’s start out by saying the Patriots are the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl this season and they are in as good of a place as a team could be in August to repeat as champions.

They had a tremendous offseason and have assembled a terrific team on paper, but because of this much of the early chatter with the team is can they go 19-0 and there's been a lot of looking ahead to games in January and February.

With everyone being so obsessed with this question and how good the team is, some question marks have been virtually ignored over the last week or so.

Who is going to play defensive end?

Sure, the loss of a third-round pick in Derek Rivers (reportedly out for the season with a torn ACL) isn’t that big of a deal, but when you add in the fact Rob Ninkovich retired at the start of training camp and Kony Ealy hasn’t been completely what he was expected to be, it’s a bit of a problem. Also, fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise Jr. hasn’t participated in practice since the first preseason game due to a concussion and Geneo Grissom (likely due to injury) didn’t dress in the second preseason game against the Texans.

As of now, when it comes to healthy defensive ends, the Patriots have Ealy, Trey Flowers, Caleb Kidder and Keionta Davis. Not good, but there's still two weeks to get healthy.

New England finished with 34 sacks last season, which was tied for 16th in the league, but with all the players the Patriots lost in the offseason and the current injury situation, how will the Patriots even get close to that number this year?

It isn’t just defensive end, as the trickle down effect of the team losing these players could impact the linebackers as well.

There’s some thought the team could use linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Harvey Langi on the edge more with David Harris playing in the middle of the defense.

Harris has been very durable over the course of his 10-year career with the Jets, but he’s really only a two-down player at this point in his career, and he’s only been with the team since June. There’s a lot to learn and could be hard to put everything on him in such a short period of time.

Elandon Roberts is another player who could play in the middle of the defense, but he left Saturday’s game with a rib injury. He’s also primarily just a run-stopper and even has looked shaky against the run in limited snaps this preseason. 

Add in the fact Hightower hasn’t played more than 13 games since 2013 and currently remains on PUP, there will always be some cause for concern when it comes to his health and durability. Although not as big as the lack of depth at defensive end, the depth at linebacker could also present some issues for the Patriots defense as well.

What about left tackle?

It doesn’t appear Nate Solder’s injury is too serious as he was walking through the locker room on Monday, but the depth behind him is concerning. Rookie Tony Garcia and LaAdrian Waddle have been banged up as well, so that leaves Cameron Fleming, rookie Conor McDermott and Cole Croston as the remaining tackles.

If Solder were to ever miss time, that could mean bad things for the offense when it comes to protecting Tom Brady's backside. It doesn’t appear Solder will need to miss time at the beginning of the year, but looking at the depth is a scary thought.

While these areas are cause for some concern, it’s worth noting how Bill Belichick approaches the first few weeks of the year. Even then he is still learning what he has in his team and still making adjustments.

The coach aluded to this on Monday with Dale & Holley with Keefe.

“Midseason to me is always about the time where I think you kind of know what you have," he said. "September, I think we’re all trying to figure out a little bit in football. You go into the season thinking one thing and then after you play three or four games, a lot of time you’re not as good at some things as you thought you were or maybe you’re better at some other things than you might have thought you were. Maybe some guys are performing higher, some guys lower, whatever. It takes a little while to find that equilibrium."

There will always be a player or two who come out of no where -- sometimes not even on the roster during training camp -- and have a major role with the team. It's become a Belichick staple.

Although there may be some concerns with the season fast approaching, these issues aren’t even close to what other teams across the league are dealing with, and when it comes to the Patriots and Belichick, it takes a few weeks into the year for the team to completely come together and be what they will be down the stretch.

Don't cancel any playoff plans, but do realize everything isn't as peachy as it may seem with all the 19-0 talk.

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