Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Sunday, December 30, 2012
Analysis from Patriots inactives

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Analysis from the Patriots' inactive players:

Gronkowski active; how much will he play? The big news is that tight end Rob Gronkowski is active for the first time since Nov. 18, yet the question remains how much he will play, if at all. This reflects how Gronkowski has been medically cleared and any decisions from here will be from a competitive standpoint. Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui worked in practice this week as the "Y" tight end, while Aaron Hernandez and Daniel Fells worked at the "F" spot.

Talib active; Dennard inactive; multiple options in secondary. Starting left cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) is active after playing just eight snaps last week, while starting right cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) is inactive for the second straight week. How the Patriots comprise their secondary is tied to how much Talib plays. If he starts, that likely means that Kyle Arrington steps in at right cornerback and Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory pair up at safety. But if Talib is still limited, it could move McCourty to cornerback for the second straight week, opening the door for Patrick Chung to play more at safety alongside Steve Gregory.

Spikes active at middle linebacker. Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who missed last week's win over the Jaguars with a knee injury, is active today. How much Spikes plays remains to be seen, but it's a positive sign from a health perspective that Spikes is deemed healthy enough to dress.

Hamstring sidelines Ebner. Rookie safety Nate Ebner, who is second on the team with 17 special teams tackles, sustained a hamstring injury last week that has knocked him out of the game. Defensive backs Derrick Martin and Malcolm Williams are two candidates to assume some of his special teams duties.