FOXBOROUGH — Already missing veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork for the season because of a torn Achilles’ tendon, the Patriots will be without their other top player at the position, at least for this week.
Tommy Kelly, the 32-year old former Raider signed in the offseason, was officially declared out for Sunday’s game against the Saints because of a knee injury he suffered in the second half of last Sunday’s loss to the Bengals.
Kelly did not practice this week, so his status is not a surprise.
However, it leaves the Patriots in a tenuous situation at defensive tackle. They have rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, and signed Andre Neblett this week to help bolster a thin group.
Neblett, listed at 6 feet, 310 pounds, said on Friday he’s been getting advice from Wilfork since he arrived at Gillette Stadium and learns his new playbook.
“He was here, in a couple of meetings, sitting in there giving us advice,” Neblett said. “I see we have a lot of young guys on the D-line and it was great for him to come in and help us. He said, ‘Things change around here quick, so stay on top of your game and it will help you stay around. Just come in and work and stay in the playbook.’”
Undrafted out of Temple in 2010, Neblett was given the locker between Wilfork and Chandler Jones; growing up in New Jersey, Neblett said he remembers watching Wilfork when he was with the Miami Hurricanes and wondering how a guy as big as Wilfork moved so well.
“Now being here, right next to him, trying to fill in for him, those are going to be big shoes to fill,” he said. “I’m going to do my best.”
Neblett entered the NFL with the Panthers, playing 30 games, with seven starts, over the 2010-12 seasons. He signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason, but was released at the end of training camp.
“He’s got some experience; he played at Carolina, Tampa,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He was here in the preseason, we played against him and it was good. [He has] good playing strength. He’s played a decent number of plays over the past three years, so he’s got some experience.”
Belichick added that Neblett has experience as a nose tackle on a three-man line and as a tackle on a four-man line.
Just as he once noted Wilfork’s relative speed, Neblett professed to having similar qualities.
“I’m a fast guy and at the same time, I’m a technician,” he said. “I use my hands well and I’m able to stay low as a short, stocky guy. I can get under guys and hopefully get back there and penetrate and also hold some gaps.
“All I know is ‘run to the ball’ and I’ll be all right.”
With Kelly out, Neblett could be active for New England against New Orleans, thrown into the fire just four days after being signed.
Collie ‘a process’
Receiver Austin Collie has been with the Patriots for about a week and a half. He was inactive last week, presumably because he didn’t know enough about the offense to get on the field.
But when Belichick was asked on Friday if Collie could contribute Sunday, he didn’t give a solid answer.
“We’ll see; it’s a process,” Belichick said. “I think we’re definitely gaining ground. Austin is definitely gaining ground. Chad O’Shea, our receivers coach, has spent a lot of time with him, a lot of extra time. I think it’s coming. We’ll see how close we feel like we are this week.
“Today will be a big day — we’ll review everything, go through some situations, kind of put it all back together. We’ll see how things go today and make some kind of decision on Sunday.”
Because of a concussion in the preseason and then a knee injury, Collie played just one game last year, in Week 3 against the Jaguars.
The Patriots also declared RB/KR Leon Washington out Sunday. Washington suffered an ankle injury on the opening kickoff against the Bengals.
After missing last week with a knee injury, RB Stevan Ridley is questionable, joining a group of seven that includes TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), WR Danny Amendola (groin), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), WR Matthew Slater (wrist), C Ryan Wendell (concussion), and DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring).
In positive injury news, WR Aaron Dobson (neck), LB Dont’a Hightower (knee), LB Jerod Mayo (ankle), and DE Rob Ninkovich (groin) were listed as full practice participants on Friday after being limited Wednesday and Thursday, and all are probable.
The Patriots removed CB Kyle Arrington (groin), DB Nate Ebner (ankle), and LB Jamie Collins (not injury related) from the injury list.
The Saints declared starting safety Roman Harper (knee) and reserve defensive end Tyrunn Walker (knee) as out; though he did not practice all week, WR Lance Moore (hand) is questionable.
Brandon Spikes was fined $7,875 by the NFL for wearing red cleats in last week’s game against the Bengals. League rules mandate that all players on a team must wear shoes of the same color . . . Belichick is tied with longtime Steelers coach Chuck Noll for fifth place in coaching victories with 209; a win Sunday and Belichick will pass the Hall of Famer. “I have tremendous respect for Coach Noll; he was one of the great coaches when I came into the league in ’75 and for the next 15 years,” Belichick said. “[The Steelers] were an excellent team and they were a good, sound team, a team that you always, as a coach outside of Pittsburgh, tried to look at what they were doing and learn from it: their fundamentals, their technique, their scheme, which wasn’t overly complicated but it was very sound.” . . . Since 2003, the Patriots are 20-1 at Gillette Stadium in October. Their only loss came in 2005 against the Chargers.