FOXBOROUGH — LaAdrian Waddle worked hard to get healthy from an ankle sprain sustained in Week 12 against the Miami Dolphins, one that kept him out of the starting lineup for the remainder of the regular season.
Waddle, the Patriots’ backup swing tackle capable of playing both sides of the formation, was a strong fill-in for starter Marcus Cannon, who had been out with an ankle injury since Week 10 and was put on injured reserve in December.
Waddle made slow but steady strides, playing limited snaps on offense and special teams.
He finally returned to start against the Titans in Saturday’s 35-14 divisional-round victory, but now his status for the AFC Championship game is uncertain after he injured his knee against Tennessee.
“It was good to be back out there,” Waddle said Monday. “But we’re past that now. Just getting ready for this week. [The goal] is to be ready for Jacksonville.”
The true test will be how the injury responds during the three days of practice this week, assuming Waddle will be able to practice at all.
Cameron Fleming filled in for Waddle during the regular season and will do the same Sunday if necessary.
Right tackle has been the only position in flux on a fairly durable offensive line this season. Right guard Shaq Mason has played 1,138 offensive snaps, most among the linemen. Left guard Joe Thuney and left tackle Nate Solder are a close second and third, with 1,136 and 1,116. Center David Andrews missed two games because of an illness.
“I guess I don’t think about it too much,” said Solder, asked about the challenge of having to play with three right tackles this season.
“I guess they have a lot on their plate. They have a huge responsibility and they know that. There’s not a whole lot you can think about or say.
“They always prepare, every one of those guys, as if they are playing. They have the mentality that they’re prepared to go whenever they are called on, and I don’t think about it one second. If I don’t do my job, what does it matter?”
‘Enjoying the ride’
It was somewhat surprising that Alan Branch was inactive against the Titans, considering he said in the week leading into the game that he was healthy enough to play.
Branch ultimately wasn’t part of the game plan, whether because of the knee injury or because the Patriots felt his skill set didn’t give them the best chance to win. Branch’s comments indicated it could be the latter.
Instead, the Patriots went with veteran Ricky Jean Francois, who was brought back Dec. 13 after the team had cut him 11 days earlier.
Jean Francois played 34 percent of the defensive snaps and sacked Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“Until game time, I don’t know anything” Jean Francois said. “I just prepare as if I was the starter. I just prepare and that’s all.”
Whether Jean Francois is part of the game plan against the Jaguars remains to be seen, but he has tempered his expectations. That’s the way he likes to approach the game, and so far that mentality has served him well.
“I could be at home watching the game on TV, but I was happy to be out there,” he said. “My thing is I didn’t have an expectation, because if you do, somehow some way [you’d] be disappointed. I’m just enjoying the ride, and whatever comes with it, I’m going to enjoy it whether it’s good or bad.”
Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady have enjoyed quite a bit of success together in New England. Though McDaniels has been with the Patriots since 2001, he didn’t begin coaching the quarterbacks until 2004, before he was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2006.
McDaniels, who took a brief hiatus from the Patriots for coaching stints with the Broncos and Rams, has been a part of all five Super Bowl victories.
He and Brady have become close off the field, too, something McDaniels discussed Monday.
Asked about their friendship, McDaniels said, “Wow. Well, I mean, look, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity, going back all the way to 2004, to have an opportunity to coach him as a football player but also to get to know him as a person.
“A lot of things have changed since 2004. Now we have kids and married and got other hats that we wear — husband, father — but certainly he’s as good at those other things as he is as a football player, if not better.
“He’s been a great friend. Had a great relationship over many, many years with him. It’s been a privilege to coach him, and I’m excited to get to prepare with him again for another one of these games that we’re fortunate to have another opportunity to compete in.
“So, looking forward to that and I know he will be, too.”