- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts from the Patriots' inactive players:
Mankins active; dressing one more lineman than norm. Four-time Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins is back after missing last Sunday's win over the Bills with a hip injury. The Patriots, perhaps not knowing how things will turn out with Mankins, are dressing eight offensive linemen instead of the standard seven. Donald Thomas and Nick McDonald project as the interior backups (assuming Mankins is dressed to play and not as insurance), with Marcus Cannon the top backup at tackle.
Hightower out, Carpenter in. Rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower said Friday that he would be a game-time decision (hamstring), and with him inactive, veteran Bobby Carpenter dresses after signing with the team this week. Hightower has been the starter on the the strongside in the base defense, and also stays on in some nickel situations. Carpenter and/or veteran Tracy White figure to fill that void.
Just two tight ends -- Gronkowski and Fells. The Patriots have preferred to go into games with three tight ends, but with Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion) unable to go, the team might have to use an offensive lineman as a third tight end if they want to keep the three-TE package in the playbook. Perhaps left tackle Nate Solder could be that player, as we saw him in that role at times last season.
Debut for Dennard. Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has been inactive for the first four games of the season (in part because of a hamstring injury), is active for the first time. He adds depth in the defensive backfield on a day when the Patriots are likely to be spending the majority of their snaps in the sub defense.
Safety net. With starting safety Steve Gregory out, it sets up a scenario where rookie Tavon Wilson could start. There also could be a trickle-down effect on the dime package, which was detailed here.