- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Some quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots' downgraded players for Sunday's opener -- tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee) and safeties Nate Ebner (ankle) and Duron Harmon (hamstring):
1. Gronk news expected. The bigger news with Gronkowski would have been if he made the trip; don't think a return is realistic until Sept. 22 at the earliest. The Patriots are light on tight ends for the opener with just Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld dressing. Hoomanawanui (6-4, 260) is more of the inline tight end, while Sudfeld (6-7, 260) is the "move" option.
2. Bolden absence most significant. Of all the moves, Bolden's absence is viewed as the most significant when considering expectations and role (we never thought Gronkowski had a chance to play). Bolden is a core special teams player. When a player like Bolden is lost, it usually takes multiple players to fill his void on special teams. His absence also likely sparked the re-signing of veteran Leon Washington, because Bolden would be the top backup to "passing back" Shane Vereen; that's a role Washington can now handle until Bolden is ready (while also potentially helping on kickoff returns).
3. Dobson's hamstring keeps him home. In a move that was forecasted earlier today, Dobson didn't make the trip. He had been limited all week with a hamstring injury, although even if he was healthy, he might have had a hard time breaking through to the 46-man game-day roster. Based on the way the preseason unfolded, he's currently behind Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins on the receiver depth chart, and with fellow rookie receiver Josh Boyce providing more special teams value, Dobson currently looks like the No. 5 option on game day. Some weeks, that might not be enough to dress depending on injuries to others.
4. Svitek's injury elevates Kline. The Patriots had declared Svitek, who projected to the No. 7 spot on the game-day roster as a backup tackle and guard, out on Friday. That likely sparked the move to promote guard Josh Kline from the practice squad Saturday. Kline had been with the team throughout training camp and thus has more knowledge of the system and experience with checks at the line of scrimmage than rookie Chris Barker, who had been claimed on waivers last Sunday.
5. Thin at safety and special teams. With core special teamer Ebner and rookie safety Harmon out, the Patriots have just starters Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory at safety, along with Tavon Wilson. That could press five-year veteran Marquice Cole into emergency duty at the position; Cole, a cornerback, played some safety in spring camps. Both Ebner and Harmon factor into the special teams mix, which is another trickle-down effect of their absence. It's likely the team will use multiple players to fill those roles.
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