Patriots Free Agent Primer: Inside linebackers

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Patriots Free Agent Primer: Inside linebackers

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.comThis is the seventh in a series of looks at the Patriots' position-by-position needs after the draft, and who's available to fill them via free agency . . . whenever free agency might come. Today's position:Inside linebacker.

Who's here?
Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton, Dane Fletcher.Who's out there?
Stewart Bradley (Eagles), Akin Ayodele (Bills), Stephen Tulloch (Titans), A.J. Hawk (Packers), Stephen Cooper (Chargers), Eric Barton (Browns), Kevin Bentley (Texans), Mark Herzlich (Boston College)What's the need?
From 1-10? Let's call it a 5. That's a real good group of four players in the "Who's here?" department. You have an All-Pro run-stuffer who sets the tone for the defense in Mayo. A kid who should improve into a pretty good NFL starter in Spikes. A guy who can give much-needed speed in covering between the numbers on intermediary third-down routes in Guyton. And a speedy, try-hard guy in Fletcher. But what the Patriots could use is an old lion in the mix they can plug-and-play when Spikes is lagging. I'll be honest, I'm not sure Spikes has the same level of professionalism as the rest of the ILBs he's working with.
Who do they chase?
There's no reason to spend time on the high-end guys like Tulloch or Hawk. But Bradley and Ayodele are veteran guys with 3-4 knowledge. Cooper is also a 3-4 ILB but he has a tendency to get driven around like a shopping cart. Herzlich is a very likely candidate for the Patriots to pursue. Because of his post-illness speed limitations, he may need to make the move inside.
Who do we look at next?
Secondary.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Thursday's Patriots-Bills practice report: Garoppolo, Brissett practice again

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Thursday's Patriots-Bills practice report: Garoppolo, Brissett practice again

FOXBORO -- The Patriots held a walkthrough on the field behind Gillette Stadium one day after both Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (thumb) tested their arms during the team's practice in full pads n Wednesday.

Both quarterbacks were back on the field, but for the second consecutive day they were limited, according to the injury report. That injury report was, in fact, unchanged from Wednesday's, meaning tight end Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) and linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) were also limited. 

There was one significant alteration to the Bills practice report, however, as tight end Charles Clay (knee) was back on the field Thursday. Receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) remained out. 

Patriots coach Bill Belichick described Watkins' explosive abilities in Buffalo's passing game earlier this week. 

"Watkins is big, he is good after the catch, he’s obviously good on the deep balls," Belichick said. "But he is good on catch-and-run plays. He can take those intermediate routes or crossing routes and turn a 10, 15-yard catch into 40. So, a hard guy to tackle, big, fast, very athletic."

If he can't go, the Bills will have to find other ways to try to manufacture yardage. 

Here's Thursday's practice participation report for the Patriots and Bills.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb)
OT Marcus Cannon (calf)
G Jonathan Cooper (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)

BUFFALO BILLS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
OL Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle)
OL Patrick Lewis (knee)
DB Jonathan Meeks (foot)
WR Greg Salas (groin)
WR Sammy Watkins (foot)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
DB Colt Anderson (foot)
TE Charles Clay (knee)
DB Ronald Darby (hamstring)
OL Cordy Glenn (ankle)
QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
DB Aaron Williams (ankle)