Patriots’ offensive linemen return to practice
FOXBOROUGH — Even though the Patriots were not required to issue an injury report on Wednesday, they appeared to get some good news,with the return of all three offensive linemen who recently have missed games.
Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, and Tre’ Jackson were back at practice, and if they’re able to play in Monday night’s game against the visiting Buffalo Bills, it would be a boost for a position group that has been hard-hit by injury, especially recently, with four starting lineups needed over the past five games.
Cannon has missed the past four games with a toe injury, and prior to Wednesday hadn’t practiced since Oct. 16. Jackson, a rookie who has started four games at right guard, sat out the past two games with a knee injury. Vollmer, who switched from right tackle to left tackle because of the injury to Cannon — who was playing left tackle because of a season-ending injury to Nate Solder — suffered a concussion in the Nov. 8 win over Washington and missed Sunday’s road game with the Giants.
The Patriots suited up just six offensive linemen for the past four games, so the potential return of Cannon, Jackson, and/or Vollmer would provide much-needed depth.
Linebacker Jamie Collins missed his fourth straight practice with an illness that has caused him to miss the past two games. The only other player not spotted was cornerback Justin Coleman, who was limited in practice last week with a hand injury, and played 24 defensive snaps in Sunday’s game with a large black cast on his right hand.
Because the Patriots play on Monday night, the week’s first injury report will come after Thursday’s practice.
Clock is ticking
Two other players attempting to come back from injury are running out of time. Defensive lineman Chris Jones and linebacker Dane Fletcher returned to practice Nov. 3, which started the 21-day window in which they can be taken off the physically unable to perform list and added to the 53-man roster. Jones had offseason calf surgery, while Fletcher is recovering from a torn knee ligament suffered in the 2014 season finale, when he was playing for the Buccaneers.
“They’re working hard,” coach Bill Belichick said. “There’s a lot of ground to make up, but nobody works harder than those two guys.”
If the 21-day window ends and neither is added to the 53-man roster, they will be placed on injured reserve, ending a season that never started.
Off the family trees
Two familiar names have been added to the practice squad, with the Patriots announcing the signing of safety Brock Vereen and tight end Joseph Fauria. Vereen’s brother, Shane Vereen, played here the past four seasons before signing with the Giants. Fauria’s uncle, Christian Fauria, spent four of his 13 NFL seasons with the Patriots, catching 79 passes from 2002-05, with 13 going for touchdowns.
Fauria politely declined an interview request — his signing hadn’t been announced at the time — but the quarterback who could be throwing him passes was pleased with the tall addition; Fauria is listed at 6 feet 7 inches, but looks even taller than that.
“I got a text from him last night,” Tom Brady said. “I’ve always kind of followed him, and I remember being out at UCLA when I lived in California and working out and meeting him out there. We’ll see what he can do. Hopefully he can contribute. If it’s in the gene pool, then I think we’re in a good place.”
Fauria spent two seasons (2013-14) with the Lions, catching 24 passes (eight for touchdowns) in 23 games. He was released by the Cardinals on Oct. 2. Vereen was a fourth-round draft pick of the Bears in 2014, and faced his older brother in a regular-season game at Gillette Stadium last season. He appeared in three games with the Bears this season before being released Sept. 29.
The Patriots also signed cornerback Chris Greenwood to the practice squad, and released defensive backs Ross Ventrone and Dewey McDonald from the practice squad.
For the second time this season, Stephen Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Gostkowski, who leads the NFL in points (97), has made all 34 extra-point attempts and all 21 field goal attempts this season. His most recent field goal, a 54-yarder with 1 second remaining, delivered the 27-26 win over the Giants on Sunday, and also gave Gostkowski 264 career field goals, one more than Adam Vinatieri for a new franchise record. Gostkowski also earned weekly honors following a 30-23 win over the Jets Oct. 25, and was AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September . . . Left tackle Nate Solder, who announced earlier this week that his infant son is being treated for kidney cancer, was spotted in the locker room and received plenty of well wishes. He suffered a biceps injury in the Oct. 11 game at Dallas, and was placed on season-ending injured reserve three days later . . . Belichick was asked if he was surprised the Bills’ highly compensated defensive front has helped produce just 14 sacks, fourth-fewest in the league. “They do a good job defensively,” said Belichick. “I think that’s a great stat for the media and fans. I don’t think that’s really what it’s all about.”