The defense, and in particular the secondary, will need several players to increase in power in the event of a safe departure Kyle Dagger — who was not spotted by reporters during Wednesday’s or Thursday’s practice, but was still on the list of limited attendees — or Mills can’t go.
Dugger, who missed the regular season finale with a hand injury, has 86 tackles, 4 interceptions and 5 passes defensed this season. He’s a versatile defender who’s tough enough to play in the box against the run and also has coverage skills to help cover tight ends.
Replacing Dugger is a daunting task and could fall to Myles Bryant, who is back after missing a week on the COVID list, or Joejuan Williams, who both held multiple positions in high school. Sean Davis is a possible practice squad call-up.
Williams got some time in the cornerback rotation midway through the season, but was a healthy scratch for three games in the streak before returning for the Finals.
“He took on different roles, depending on who else was available, really, in his three years here,” the coach said. Bill Belichick noted. “Sometimes playing inside, sometimes playing outside.
“We have changed a bit schematically in terms of man/area distribution etc. He adapted to all of those things, but it was a bit of a transition and he had to connect at times when we needed him instead of just being able to stay in one place.
As to who could play the boundary corner opposite JC Jackson instead of Mills, it could be a holistic approach. The Patriots have corners D’Angelo Ross, Cre’Von LeBlanc, DeVante Bausby, and DJDaniel in the practice squad.
Ross has been called up for three straight weeks, while LeBlanc has over 50 games of experience and some familiarity with the system.
Jackson, who will likely be tasked with facing Buffalo’s top receiver — Stefan Diggs — expressed his confidence in the group.
“We had to change some things, but we still prepared the same. It was hard not to have [Mills] this week, but when one guy goes down, it’s the next one,” Jackson said. “So we’ve been preparing all week for the next guy. He’s going to be ready, whoever it is.
According to an ESPN report, Jerod Mayo, who coaches Patriots inside linebackers and helps play calls, will be on the Texans’ list of potential candidates to replace David Culley as head coach.
Mayo, who confirmed earlier this week that he will meet with the Broncos, maintained that he is focused on his current job.
“It’s a very humbling experience; I mean, it’s awesome,” Mayo said Tuesday after being offered interviews. “At the end of the day, I’ll say this: I’m fully focused on the Buffalo Bills, but this is definitely a huge opportunity. I hope one day I get the chance to coach a team.
Mayo is very popular with players and staff.
“I think the world of Mayo,” said security Devin McCourty, who was once a teammate. “Coming in as a young player, everything he taught me. Watching his leadership. Watching him day to day. He’s been the same way as a coach.
Mayo has a long relationship with the Houston GM Nick Caserio both player and coach.
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who is nursing hip and ankle injuries, was the only active player to miss the session. He’s been listed as dodgy, and if he can’t go, he’ll probably be replaced by Justin Heron.
In addition to Dugger, others listed as limited/doubtful include linebackers Jamie Collins (ankle) and Dont’a Hightower (knee); defensive linemen Lawrence Guy (shoulder) and Christian Barmore (knee); security Adrian Phillips (knee); center david andrews (shoulder); to recover Damien Harris (tendon); recipient Jakobi Meyers (thigh); special teams Brandon King (toe) and Cody Davis (wrist); and kicker Nick Folk (left knee).
The Bills did not list any players as absent or questionable.
Folk went down a bit Bill Nye knowledge on Thursday when asked if it is indeed harder to kick in icy conditions. “It’s simple physics there,” Folk said. “Science, if you will. Air molecules don’t move as freely inside the ball, so you can’t compress it as well. When things are cold, things don’t move as well. Folk, 37, who is having one of the best seasons of his career (36 of 39 field goals), said he would like to continue playing after this season. “I feel pretty good where I am right now,” he said. “I type well with [holder] James [Bailey] and [long snapper] Joe [Cardona], so I would like to continue playing. But I think the focus is only on Buffalo. I haven’t really thought about it. … This will be the 125th meeting between the franchises but only the second in the playoffs. In their first playoff game, the Patriots won 26-8 over the Bills at War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo on December 28, 1963… The Patriots hold a 77-46-1 advantage in the overall series.
Jim McBride can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.