- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few quick injury-related thoughts on the Patriots:
1. Brady's absence from practice. Quarterback Tom Brady's missed practice today serves as a reminder that he's still managing pain with his left shoulder. He was first listed on the team's injury report Dec. 29, five days after a Dolphins game in which he absorbed eight quarterback hits. Given how Brady loves to practice and the Patriots are preparing for the nothing-is-more-important-than-this AFC Championship Game, the absence is notable. At the same time, does anyone really think Brady won't be under center Sunday at 3 p.m.? He'll be there, of course. In recent weeks, he's shown toughness in working through the pain while producing top-notch performances.
2. Solder's concussion & offensive tackle spot a concern. The Patriots have three offensive tackles on their injury report, with first-round draft choice Nate Solder added this week with a concussion, as the health and depth of the position has become one of the top storylines leading into the AFC Championship Game. Solder, the impressive rookie from Colorado, has become a key cog along the offensive line this season with 11 starts at right tackle in place of injured Sebastian Vollmer. This is the second time this season that Solder has been listed with a concussion. Meanwhile, Vollmer has missed the last six games with injuries to his back and foot and remains limited in practice; he also missed five of the first six games of this season in what has been a frustrating season for him. Rookie Marcus Cannon, fourth on the offensive tackle depth chart, was limited at today's practice with an ankle injury. Given the Ravens' ability to disguise and pressure, this area bears watching. It also could affect the "big" package the Patriots like to use with Solder as a tight end.
3. Branch's knee limits him. Veteran receiver Deion Branch's knee injury, which limited him in Wednesday's practice, is new on the team's report. ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi made the point on this week's ESPNBoston.com Patriots podcast that the Ravens figure to focus on the middle of the field -- attempting to take away tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and receiver Wes Welker (easier said than done, of course) -- and make the Patriots' outside receivers beat them. If Branch isn't 100 percent, this could lead to more time for Chad Ochocinco or Tiquan Underwood as an outside receiver. Julian Edelman also could possibly be in that mix, although he might be viewed as more of an inside option.
4. Hernandez concussion bears watching. Tight end Aaron Hernandez said he's "ready to go" for Sunday's game, but the Patriots still limited him in practice in a move that shows they are still being careful with him. Concussions can be tricky.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few quick injury-related thoughts on the Patriots:1. Brady's absence from practice. Quarterback Tom Brady's missed practice today serves as a reminder that he's still managing pain with his left shoulder.