Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Patriots Journal: Replacing Ebner won’t be easy

By Rich Garven

November 29, 2017

FOXBORO — When it comes to special teams, the Patriots have few peers in the NFL this season — which is the norm under the guidance of coach Bill Belichick.

Dion Lewis ranks third in the league in kick returns, Danny Amendola is 11th in punt returns, and the punt and kickoff coverage units check in fifth and sixth, respectively. Stephen Gostkowski has kicked three field goals of 50-plus yards and Cassius Marsh and Lawrence Guy both blocked field goals.

But the Patriots absorbed a big blow when Nate Ebner suffered a season-ending knee injury in Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins, a game in which fellow core special-teamer Trevor Reilly left with a concussion.

Ebner was a second-team All-Pro selection last season after leading the league in special-teams tackles. He currently leads the team with eight tackles despite missing nearly three full games.

“Well, of course we’ll miss Nate but, again, that’s an unfortunate part of the game,” Belichick said on Tuesday in a conference call. “We have other players that have worked hard that will get an opportunity, and I’m sure that they’ll go out there and do their best to make the most of their opportunity and provide a high quality of play for us. That’s what a full team is about, how everybody depends on each other and how we need everybody.”

And, don’t forget, special-teams captain Matthew Slater has missed six games with a nagging hamstring injury.

Still, the Patriots have outstanding depth in the third phase of the game with the likes of Marquis Flowers, Johnson Bademosi, Jacob Hollister, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Brandon King and Jordan Richards. And you can add linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who was signed on Tuesday, to the list.

“Nate’s been an absolute stalwart on special teams for a long time,” said James Devlin, who plays special teams in addition to fullback. “But we’ll have guys fill in and we’re all going to have to pick up our game collectively and make up for that. It’s a shame to see him go down, but that’s the game of football, so we’ll make the adjustments we need to and move on.”

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