With the Patriots just a couple of days away from their next contest, one thing that obviously stands out is the fact they’re heading into this game with some potential changes that should have an interesting effect on both sides of the football.

Vince Wilfork was placed on injured reserve on Thursday, which now forces some other players to hopefully step in and establish themselves in New England’s defense.  If history is any indication the Patriots have had success in these situations in the past, and they seem to have a good mix of players who should be able to allow them to ride out Wilfork’s absence.

One player who seems to be excited about his opportunity is rookie Joe Vellano, who is posed to potentially be one of those players.  According to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe, Vellano got some additional time with Wilfork back in training camp going over technique, with the two spending 20 minutes working together.  Manza Young pointed out that it was a moment his dad, Paul Sr. took note of, and now here he is with the task of filling in for him.  It’s something that his son came to the realization of now that Wilfork is done for the year.

“He said to me, ‘I’m stepping in for a 10-year All-Pro guy, not just a great player, a great person, the community loves him . . . My God, I have to step in for him,’ ” Paul Sr. told Manza Young on Thursday.

On the other side of the ball the Patriots added receiver Austin Collie on Thursday, which gives the Patriots depth at a position that is a little banged up at this point after Kenbrell Thompkins suffered a shoulder injury against Atlanta, while Aaron Dobson is also dealing with a neck injury.  Both players practiced this week, but Collie gives them some additional insurance along with rookie Josh Boyce should either one be unable to go or if either suffers a setback.  Collie’s concussion history is one that nearly ended his NFL career and still remains a concern, but he’s a player who could certainly carve out a role for himself if he can remain healthy.


Sudfeld’s release caught quite a few people off gaurd on Thursday.
(USA TODAY Images)

However, there was a big surprise on Thursday after the Patriots opted to release tight end Zach Sudfeld, who went from being a guy with tremendous upside during training camp to now being waived.  The move signifies that Matthew Mulligan may have moved ahead of him on the depth chart, and the team could be leaning toward giving Mulligan more playing time in lieu of Sudfeld.  Tom Brady and Sudfeld haven’e been able to get on the same page, with Sudfeld having bee targeted three times, two of which resulted in interceptions.  The nail in the coffin for the rookie was likely the botched onside kick attempt that he was unable to come up with that ultimately got Atlanta back in the game Sunday night, which was certainly a low point.  It will be interesting to see if he clears waivers, and whether or not the team opts to give him another chance on the practice squad.

Some may wonder if his release points to Rob Gronkowski potentially returning this week, but it’s tough to speculate if that’s the case.  Mike Reiss said in his weekly chat on Thursday that he expects both Danny Amendola and Gronkowski to return this week, but after last week and all the recent reports surrounding the veteran tight end, we’ll have to see if that is indeed the case or if they keep him out for one more week and have him return for their match-up against the Saints next weekend.

Meanwhile, another situation to monitor is going to be Stevan Ridley’s status this afternoon.  He’s missed two straight practices with a reported thigh injury, which Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported earlier this week “wasn’t serious” and that it had just tightened up on him Wednesday.  Nick Underhill of MassLive reported Thursday that the running back is considered “day to day”, but should Ridley not practice today it will leave New England having to rely on LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden out in Cincinnati.  Ridley has done a good job bouncing back after his week one benching, having rushed 47 times for 174 yards (3.7 avg) and has played well.  As a result it’s yet another challenge the Patriots face in trying to improve to 5-0 this weekend.

AARON HERNANDEZ vs GENO ATKINS – IF ONLY…

Looking back to the 2010 draft, it’s tough for Bill Belichick to not be a little frustrated with what could have been, especially after seeing the fiasco that unfolded for him this offseason after Aaron Hernandez ended up on trial for murder.  Hernandez was taken in the fourth round at 113 overall in 2010,  with Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins taken just seven picks later at 120.  Belichick loves defensive guys who are big play makers, but he was focused on trying to solidify a tight end tandem that would have given Brady a lethal combination after selecting Gronkowksi with the 42nd pick in round two of that same draft.  From a talent standpoint, it was a good move and obviously worked out fairly well at the time. Unfortunately Hernandez made some bad choices that he’ll have to pay for and his now-former team has moved on. Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Atkins this week, and it’s hard not to wonder what Atkins could have been in this defense.

SOLDER PLAYING LIGHTS OUT:

Interesting bit from Jeff Howe on Thursday.  Patriots left tackle Nate Solder is off to quite a start so far this season, with Howe pointing out that Solder hasn’t allowed a sack or quarterback or hit so far this season, which is impressive.  He also points out that the Patriots have had success running to his side, having rushed more times (39) for more yards (165) off left tackle than any other position on the offensive line.  Hopefully that continues.

BLEDSOE REVEALS WHO HE FEELS IS THE GREATEST QB EVER

Former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe joined Chad on Flight 750 in Oregon earlier this week to talk about his football career, and also revealed who he thinks the greatest quarterback ever is.

“I really in my personal opinion – And you just take that for what it’s worth – I think Peyton’s probably the best one that’s played the game,” said Bledsoe. “I really do believe that.”

With Bledsoe being back in the Northwest he’s also getting an up close look at the Seahawks, who have obviously been impressive so far and he’s impressed with what Pete Carroll has done since arriving as head coach.

“When Pete landed in Seattle, I felt fairly confident that he was going to have a lot of success because he was going to make sure that he had control of the personnel and man they’ve got depth,” said Bledsoe. “They’ve got talent, they’ve got everything going with the Seahawks and it’s pretty exciting to see the success he’s having.”

You can listen to the full interview here.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON HERALD:

Patriots a double-dog dare - Jim Lazar – Lazar writes that for the second straight week the Patriots will play the underdog, with the Bengals favored by one this weekend.

Notebook: Rookie Aaron Dobson ‘feeling better’ – Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook this morning, which leads off with the fact that after suffering a neck injury Sunday night in Atlanta, rookie receiver Aaron Dobson said Thursday he’s ‘feeling better’.

Michael Buchanan in line for more time – Adam Kurkjian – Kurkjian has a good article this morning on Michael Buchanan, with the 7th round pick oout of Illinois now set for an opportunity to earn a role for more playing time.

Multiple targets Pats’ aim – Matt Chatham – Chatham files his weekly “Chatham Report” and gives his thoughts on the fact he’ll be watching the inclusion of ‘non-wide receivers’ in the Patriots passing attack Sunday.

BOSTON GLOBE:

Undrafted lineman Joe Vellano is undeterred by new task – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young has a good read on Vellano this morning, and has a good bit about the fact Wilfork spent additional time working with the rookie, something that his dad Paul took note of back in camp.

Tight end Zach Sudfeld waived by Patriots - Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young looks at the release of Sudfeld, who went from a training camp darling for his size and penchant for one-handed grabs, to being waived yesterday.

NOTEBOOK: Kenbrell Thompkins putting it together for Patriots – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer files his notebook this morning which leads off with a bit on Thompkins, who so far has a great attitude and it’s one of the reasons why he’s been so successful so far.

Wilfork on IR; Patriots sign Collie – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young has a quick bit on a couple of transactions Thursday, with Wilfork officially being placed on IR and the addition of WR Austin Collie.

ESPN BOSTON:

Fifth DB trumps third LB for Patriots - Mike Reiss – Reiss looks at the sub and base packages and how the personnel has worked out in those situations.

WEEI:

The case for Aqib Talib as Defensive Player of the Year – Christopher Price – Price writes that Talib is making a case for himself to be considered the defensive player of the year.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Patriots sign former Colts receiver Austin Collie – Jennifer Toland – Toland files her notebook this morning which leads off with the signing of Collie, while also noting the Patriots defense has given up 14.3 points per game, ranking them sixth in the NFL in that category.

Green-Ellis, Bernard share the Bengals’ rushing load – Jennifer Toland – Toland looks at the Bengals rushing attack, which includes former Patriots RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard.

ENTERPRISE NEWS:

Patriots corner Aqib Talib focused on stopping Bengals - Glen Farley – Farley has a good read this morning on Talib, who is focused on going out and having a good performance against the Bengals this weekend.

PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK: Develin says he’s just doing what comes naturally – Glen Farley – Farley files his notebook this morning which leads off with some notes on James Develin, who is O.K. with the fact that his role in the offense as a blocking fullback doesn’t get him much glory.

MASSLIVE:

New England Patriots’ Devin McCourty on Aqib Talib: ‘I don’t think you can name top corners without naming him’  - Nick Underhill – Underhill has comments from Devin McCourty, who had some kind words to say about his teammate on Thursday.

CBS SPORTS BOSTON:

Socci: Absence Of Wilfork, Presence Of Atkins Both Major Influences For Patriots On Sunday – Bob Socci – Socci looks at this week’s game and the absence of Wilfork, and the contrast between he and Bengals defensive lineman Geno Atkins.

FM NEWS 101 KXL

Drew Bledsoe: He’s Just Living the Dream - This radio station out of Oregon has an article and interview with former Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe, who is enjoying his retirement and has some interesting comments on who he feels the greatest quarterback ever is.