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Patriots notebook

Wilhite (hamstring) put on IR

Leonard added for depleted defense

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 16, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — With three regular-season games remaining, including Sunday night’s against the Packers at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots’ depth along the defensive line continues to be a concern, especially after four defensive linemen were among six players who did not practice yesterday.

Myron Pryor (back), Mike Wright (concussion), Ron Brace (concussion), and Gerard Warren (knee) were listed as “did not participate.’’

Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty (rib) and quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot) also did not practice.

The injuries along the defensive front seemed to become more acute, prompting the team yesterday to add free agent defensive lineman Louis Leonard, while placing cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hamstring) on injured reserve after he had been inactive the last four games.

“Jonathan’s situation just wasn’t improving the way that he hoped or we hoped it would, so we had to move along there,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “Leonard is a guy that has a little experience in the league. Defensive lineman is a position that we’re kind of short on; [we] just had five at the game last week. So, hopefully he can give us a little depth there if he can get ready to go.’’

Leonard, a 6-foot-4-inch, 325-pounder, originally signed with the Chargers in 2007 as a rookie free agent out of Fresno State. He has been with three teams — St. Louis (2007), Cleveland (2007-08), and Carolina (2009-10). The Panthers released Leonard Sept. 28 after he experienced problems with a troublesome ankle.

“The good thing about it was I was able to sit back, get treatment, get off my feet, and it helped tremendously,’’ said Leonard, who was reunited with former college teammates Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, and James Sanders in the Patriots’ locker room. “I’m feeling real good. Basically, you know, trying to maintain football shape. You never can get in football shape without playing football, so I tried to maintain it and you know, just get some rest. And I’m feeling good and I’m happy to be here.’’

Twelve angry men Wilhite became the 12th Patriot to be placed on IR this season, their most since 14 in 2008.

The Patriots have started 37 players this season, 19 on defense and 18 on offense. And that’s not including the changes on special teams, signing long snapper Matt Katula and kicker Shayne Graham.

“I think every team knows that whoever the 53-man roster is that you have in September, it’s probably not going to be who it is at the end of the year,’’ Belichick said. “So, it’s just part of going through an NFL season. It’s a long season and there’s certainly attrition to it, one way or another, that everybody has to deal with in some form. Some years more than others.

“The more players can play multiple positions and do multiple things, then that gives you some degree of depth. But ultimately, you’re going to have to fill players’ spots with players. So, they’ve got to come from somewhere. You have to figure out how to get the best out of the guys who are available.’’

Slim pickin’s With McCourty nursing a rib injury, and Wilhite on IR, it left the Patriots with Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, and newly signed Chevis Jackson as healthy cornerbacks at practice.

Drafted in the third round by the Falcons in 2008, Jackson, a Louisiana State product, said he would likely be ready if called upon Sunday night.

“I wouldn’t say [it’s] pressure, it’s football,’’ said Jackson, who was signed by the Jaguars in October, but released last month. “Just go out there, do your best, and lineup where they expect you to be and do what you’ve got to do. When I was with the Falcons, I played inside and outside, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll play wherever the coaches want me to play.’’

Snow no problem With last Sunday’s victory over the Bears, the Patriots improved to 11-0 in snow games under Belichick, which came as a complete surprise (perhaps) to the coach. “Honestly, I didn’t even know that,’’ he said. “That’s great. We’ll get the snowmaking machines out there, start firing it up. I wasn’t even aware of it. Those aren’t the kind of records I keep track of. Look, our team has to be ready to play in whatever the elements are every week. They practice in them. They play in them.’’ Which explained why, though the Packers practiced indoors yesterday, the Patriots worked out on the lower grass field outside Gillette Stadium. “I think most of the credit goes to what we’re doing in practice,’’ said Deion Branch, when asked about the Patriots’ success in the snow. “Mr. [Robert] Kraft had that bubble built that we don’t use. I don’t know how much it cost him, but I think Coach Belichick [couldn’t] care less.’’ . . . Packers All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson said if it snows in Foxborough Sunday night it might lead to nightmarish flashbacks of New England’s 16-13 overtime victory over Oakland in the AFC playoffs in 2002, when Woodson played for the Raiders. “I’ve had that flashback more times than I would like,’’ said Woodson, who jarred the ball loose from Brady on the infamous “Tuck Rule’’ play. “I catch that game on the classic football channel sometimes. That’s a bad memory for me. This week, we’re just going to try and concentrate on getting this win, whether it snows or not.’’

Shalise Manza Young and Monique Walker of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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