With colleague Christopher Gasper reporting today that Tyrone McKenzie is out for the season with an ACL tear in his right knee, the Patriots lose a promising prospect at inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense.
The depth at the position has been reduced by two over the last week -- first with the release of 2008 sixth-round draft choice Bo Ruud, and now with McKenzie's injury.
The Patriots return starters Jerod Mayo and Tedy Bruschi at inside linebacker, as well as top backup Gary Guyton. In 2008, Mayo would usually stay on the field for all three downs, while Bruschi played early downs before being replaced by Guyton.
After selecting McKenzie in the third round this year (97th overall), the Patriots presumably planned to groom him to enter that rotation. With Bruschi entering the final year of his contract in 2009, and nearing the end of his career, Patriots decision-makers were likely thinking that McKenzie could develop into a possible replacement.
Recently signed veteran Vinny Ciurciu, fourth-year veteran Eric Alexander and rookie free agent Antonio Appelby are other inside linebackers on the roster, with Ciurciu and Alexander primarily special teams players. While the Patriots would presumably prefer to keep Adalius Thomas in more of a pass-rushing role at outside linebacker, Thomas would be another option to play inside.