Derek Rivers has a knee injury that looks serious enough that it may cost the rookie his first season in New England.
According to ESPN, the Patriots fear that Rivers will miss the 2017 season after going down with a left knee injury during Wednesday's joint practice against the Texans. At the time of the injury, Rivers was covering a kickoff and his knee buckled as he attempted to change direction. The severity of the injury was not known initially, but he traveled back to Boston on Wednesday night for further testing.
Rivers had seen time both on the edge and as a stand-up linebacker who floated all over defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's front of late. He could be seen rushing from the outside, dropping into coverage on running backs, or standing over interior offensive linemen during recent practices. He indicated recently that he was beginning to grasp concepts better and think more quickly in the scheme after arriving to the Patriots as a player who worked almost exclusively as a hand-in-the-dirt left defensive end at Youngstown State.
The timing of Rivers' injury further muddies the picture at defensive end for the Patriots, who were already thin at that spot before their top draft pick went down.
Rob Ninkovich announced his retirement early in training camp. Impressive rookie end Deatrich Wise left last week's preseason game against the Jaguars with a head injury. Linebacker Shea McClellin, who has experience on the edge, has been absent from Patriots practices for almost two weeks.
Left at the position are Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom and undrafted rookie Caleb Kidder. Lawrence Guy has some positional flexibility, giving the Patriots another potential option, as does undrafted rookie defensive lineman Adam Butler.
Linebacker Harvey Langi has seen a heavy workload on the outside with the top Patriots defense in recent training camp practices. He, along with fellow linebacker Kyle Van Noy, have some versatility to play both off the ball and on the end of the line.
The Patriots signed undrafted rookie Keionta Davis earlier this week, giving them some depth on their defensive front, but he has not yet practiced.
With the Patriots hurting for numbers on the edge, it could mean significant reps for players like Ealy, Langi, Grissom, Butler and Kidder on Saturday night in Houston.
Ealy, who recorded some impressive pass-rush snaps during two Patriots practices at the Greenbrier this week, said that while injuries are never a good thing, the extra reps for the players who are available can't hurt.
"With repetition, you have no choice but to get better," said Ealy, who has had an inconsistent camp with his new team. "That's what I feel like I'm doing . . . Despite any (injury) mishaps, we don't want those, but if definitely puts you in a position to see what you're team is built off of when you have shorter numbers.
"I feel like we did what we needed to do under the circumstances [in joint practices with the Texans], and that gets back to the great coaching that we have and the motivation to push ourselves that we have between each other."