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Monday, October 15, 2012
Personnel concerns on special teams

By Mike Reiss

SEATTLE, Wash. -- This isn't the best week to have personnel concerns on special teams, as Sunday's opponent, the Jets, annually challenges the Patriots in this area.

This is where injuries hit the deepest for the Patriots on Sunday in Seattle.

Special teams captain Matthew Slater limped off in the fourth quarter and didn't return. He plays on all four core special teams units. Running back Brandon Bolden, who regularly plays on three of the four units, limped off in the second quarter with a knee injury and didn't return. Meanwhile, safety Patrick Chung (2 units) -- who serves as the personal protector on the punt team -- left the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury and didn't return. His backup, Steve Gregory, remains out with a hip injury. Another top special teams player, linebacker Tracy White, missed Sunday's game altogether with a foot injury.

Bill Belichick has often said that the composition of the 46-man game-day roster is made up with special teams a key consideration, and that when a core special teamer is not available, it often takes multiple players to fill that void.

Consider that this is how the Patriots replaced White, their second-leading special-teams tackler in 2011, on Sunday in Seattle:

Punt coverage team: Nate Ebner
Punt return team: Justin Francis
Kickoff return team: Sterling Moore
Kickoff coverage team: Trevor Scott

They essentially used four players to fill one role, although those players also contributed in other areas on defense. But their ability to contribute on special teams was a significant part of the roster puzzle.

So it wouldn't be surprising if the Patriots scan the free-agent market for a core special teams type player, someone who might be able to bridge the gap for a week or so if Slater, White and Co. will need some time to heal.

Meanwhile, here is a look at the players who showed up on multiple special teams units against the Seahawks (based on the first units that came on to the field):

Four units
Bobby Carpenter
Marquice Cole
Nate Ebner
Niko Koutouvides
Matthew Slater 

Three units
Brandon Bolden
Trevor Scott

Two units
Kyle Arrington
Patrick Chung
Rob Ninkovich