FOXBORO -- It's time to see how much Shane Vereen can handle.
The Patriots running back has been out of action since suffering a wrist injury in Week 1 when he went for 159 total yards -- 101 rushing, 58 receiving -- in a 23-21 win over the Bills. He was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, and Monday night's game with the Panthers is the first game for which he will be eligible to play.
Bill Belichick explained on Thursday morning that the team is using this week to determine just how much Vereen can do.
"It's good to have him back on the field," Belichick said. "This will really be an opportunity for us to evaluate this week where he is -- give him some harder assignments and see how he's doing. He's been able to be active and participate, but I'd say it'll be a higher level of competition for him this week on the practice field, as it should be. Gradually escalate the intensity of it, see how it goes."
Vereen's addition to the offensive huddle could be a boon to the Patriots if he's at something resembling full strength. The Panthers feature one of the strongest defensive lines in football, a group that can get to the quarterback without the help of extra rushers from its linebacking corps or secondary. With Vereen on the field, the Patriots will once again have its best pass-catching running back to serve as a quick outlet to quarterback Tom Brady if he's under pressure. If Vereen is plays, the Patriots will also have the ability to use their best screen-game personnel to help mitigate Carolina's aggressive front four.
Belichick also gave a brief update on cornerback Aqib Talib, who has not seen game action since Week 6 against the Saints thanks to a hip injury.
"He's continued to progress," Belichick said. "We'll keep doing -- as they can tolerate it -- keep doing more and evaluate how they do at a little bit higher level. And if that goes well, ramp it up and we'll see where we are as we go through the week. Same thing we do every week."