Patriots notebook

Team tackles practice without two bookends

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / October 16, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots practiced yesterday without their starting bookends on the offensive line, as left tackle Matt Light was sidelined by a knee injury and right tackle Nick Kaczur by his right ankle.

Kaczur's absence was expected after he was carted to the locker room during the first quarter of last Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Chargers, linebacker Shaun Phillips having stepped on his foot on a pass rush.

But Light's absence was a surprise, as he played every offensive snap against the Chargers.

With both tackles out of action, it was good timing for the Patriots that offensive tackle Oliver Ross practiced for the first time this season. Ross, in his 11th NFL season, opened the year on the non-football injury list after hurting his collarbone while falling off the step of his camper in the offseason. Coach Bill Belichick previously said the Patriots knew about his condition when they signed him to a one-year contract.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 327-pound Ross, who spent most of his career with the Steelers (2001-04) and Cardinals (2005-07), has experience at both tackle spots, although he's considered more of a pure right tackle. He missed all of last season with a triceps injury.

The Patriots have a 21-day window to decide whether to activate Ross on the 53-man roster.

In addition to Ross, the Patriots have second-year player Mark LeVoir and third-year man Wesley Britt at tackle. LeVoir, who has zero career NFL starts on his résumé, filled in well when Kaczur went down last Sunday. Britt, who has lined up at both tackle spots and has played in 14 games with two career starts, has been inactive for every game this season. Veteran guard Russ Hochstein could also be an emergency option.

As for Kaczur, he walked through the locker room before heading to the weight room for a workout.

"It's sore, but it should be all right," he said.

Painful process

When the Patriots selected running back Laurence Maroney in the first round of the 2006 draft - 21st overall - Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said at the time it was a steal.

With Shanahan preparing to face the Patriots Monday, and Maroney missing practice because of a shoulder injury after having been inactive in the loss to the Chargers, the longtime Denver coach was asked if he was surprised Maroney hasn't broken out with a big season.

"Yeah, but you just don't know from an injury standpoint," Shanahan replied. "A lot of times you will like a guy coming out of the draft, but for one reason or another a guy gets banged up or injured so they are not as productive as you thought they would be - but mainly it is because of injury. I don't know Maroney's situation as well as you guys, [but] when I first saw him, you could see the talent that he had."

In addition to Maroney, the Patriots practiced without LaMont Jordan (right calf).

Some long shots

After the Patriots surrendered passing plays of 48, 49, and 59 yards last Sunday, members of the secondary are expecting a Bronco barrage of deep throws.

"They're going to take their shots," said safety Rodney Harrison, noting that quarterback Jay Cutler has "probably the best arm in the league in terms of downfield strength."

Cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who was flagged for a 32-yard pass interference penalty in the end zone that led to a touchdown against the Chargers, understands why the Broncos would take that approach.

"That's a wound that everyone is going to keep trying to open up until we heal it," he said.

Graham contributing

Former Patriots tight end Daniel Graham was hoping to become more involved as a pass-catcher when he signed with the Broncos as a free agent prior to the 2007 season, but that hasn't happened. He had 24 receptions and two touchdowns last season, and enters Monday night's game with eight catches and one touchdown.

Yet Shanahan said the Broncos are more than pleased with the 6-3, 257-pound Graham. As was the case in New England, Graham is considered an asset because of the other things he does.

"He's been great for us, a natural-born leader," Shanahan said. "Not too often can you leave a tight end on a defensive end and not worry about it, but Daniel has that type of ability in pass protection. At 250-something pounds, he can block the best of the outside linebackers in the league."

Neal practices

Right guard Stephen Neal, who opened the year on the physically unable to perform list with a shoulder injury, returned to practice for the first time this season. The Patriots have 21 days to decide whether to activate Neal. Billy Yates has been starting in his absence. "I'm just excited to get an opportunity to practice," Neal said . . . Defensive end Jarvis Green, who was carted to the locker room after injuring his right ankle in the first quarter last Sunday, did not participate in practice, which was not held in full pads . . . Hobbs said he was still recovering from the 10-day trip to California. "I think the California time hit me [Tuesday]; I didn't go to bed until 5 [in the] morning. I was just staring at the wall," he said . . . The Patriots face a tough challenge if they're looking to increase their sack total (7); the Broncos have allowed just two sacks in 231 pass plays, the best mark in the NFL . . . On the flip side, opponents have totaled 20 sacks against the Patriots. In 2007, opponents totaled 21 against the Patriots all season . . . Receiver Maurice Price, who had been released Saturday to make room for running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, was signed to the practice squad.

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