We can expect tight end Kellen Winslow to be in Foxborough tomorrow as the New England Patriots continue to prepare for Sunday night. But can we expect to see him on the field in Baltimore against the Ravens?
By all indications, the Patriots are bringing Winslow in to fill the shoes of Aaron Hernandez, who will miss a few weeks with an ankle injury. But how will the loss of Hernandez and addition of Winslow affect the offensive formations the Patriots run on Sunday night?
In other words, will they go back to their preferred two-tight-end set with Rob Gronkowski and Winslow on the field for most of the game? Or will their offense look more like it did Sunday after Hernandez went down, with primarily three-receiver sets (and a bigger role for Wes Welker)?
Will Winslow be ready to contribute right away? That likely depends on two factors: (1) Is he healthy? The Patriots passed on signing him earlier this month and there were reports he failed his physical (questions about his knees), but sources told ESPN that the 29-year-old passed the physical. (2) Can he get up to speed with the playbook in time to be able to contribute Sunday?
That, in large part, depends on Winslow, who has been one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league in recent seasons. He has 437 receptions for 4,836 yards and 23 touchdowns in seven seasons and made the Pro Bowl while with the Browns in 2007. He caught 75 passes for 763 yards and two scores last season.
“Whoever knows Kellen Winslow well enough and how smart he is can answer that question” about whether he can contribute right away, ESPN NFL analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said on this week’s ESPNBoston.com Patriots Podcast. “I know Kellen. We’ve spoken and met. I don’t know about his football aptitude, but this is a guy, from the impressions that I have, that wants to win so bad. He wants to be successful in a bad way. He wants it really, really bad. That’s great.
“To have that emotion and desire is one thing, but to play for the New England Patriots you have to be cerebral, especially offensively. You've got to be able to pick up the system, you've got to be able to adjust on the fly, and you've got to be able to absorb a lot in a short amount of time if you come on board in this capacity. You’ve seen players in the past, players that haven’t been able to do it, that just aren’t there anymore because it didn’t work because they weren’t smart enough. Let’s see if Winslow picks up the system and starts to contribute to this team. I think he’s got a good chance.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked during a Tuesday teleconference with reporters whether you can rely on a player acquired during the week to be an immediate contributor on the field that same week. He recalled a time when he was coach of the Cleveland Browns, when after losing his first two quarterbacks to injury early in the 1992 season he signed Mike Tomczak mid-week and had to start him that Sunday.
How did he do? The Browns were shut out by the Denver Broncos, 12-0, in Tomczak’s first game. The quarterback was 9-for-19 with 75 yards passing and two interceptions. The Browns, however, won four of the next five games. Over that span, Tomczak threw five touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Mike did a good job,” Belichick said. “He came in and worked hard, learned a lot through the week and actually played pretty competitively and I thought he had a pretty decent year for us that year. Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation but we did that last year too. We brought guys in, played them in the nickel or started them; played them for 30 or 40 plays in the game. [We] signed guys and didn’t play them at all. It depends on all the circumstances that surround the player, the game, the situation and so forth. I don’t think there’s any real book on that.”