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The Patriots have been battling with injuries they didn’t have to face in 2016.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

1. In 2016, the Patriots finished the season with just three players on the injured reserve: LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulders), TE Rob Gronkowski (back), and TE Greg Scruggs (knee). Two other players were on the PUP list and did not play all season: OG Tre Jackson (knee) and OT Sebastian Vollmer (everything).

This year, the Patriots are in much worse shape. WR Julian Edelman (ACL), CB Cyrus Jones(ACL), EDGE Derek Rivers (ACL), EDGE Caleb Kidder, and TE Matt Lengel were all placed on the injured reserve prior to the start of the season and cannot return this year, while EDGE Shea McClellin, WR Malcolm Mitchell, and DT Vincent Valentine were placed on the injured reserve after week 1 and are eligible to return.

This does not include the non-football injury players in EDGE Keionta Davis, OG Chase Farris, OT Antonio Garcia, and OT Andrew Jelks.

The Patriots are able to bring two players back from the injured reserve this year, so two of McClellin, Mitchell, and Valentine will return based upon team need. My guess would be on the first two.

2. As MassLive’s Kevin Duffy highlighted, the Patriots have made eight draft selections in the first four rounds of the past two drafts. Just two remain on the Patriots active roster in 2016 third round OG Joe Thuney and 2017 EDGE Deatrich Wise.

2016 2nd round CB Cyrus Jones is out for the year with a torn ACL, 2016 third round QB Jacoby Brissett is now with the Indianapolis Colts, and 2016 third round DT Vincent Valentine and 2016 fourth round WR Malcolm Mitchell are on the injured reserve with knee injuries. 2017 third round EDGE Derek Rivers tore his ACL in camp, while 2017 third round OT Tony Garcia wasn’t able to participate due to his limitations.

The Patriots really need to figure out what went wrong with all of these injuries and if they can fix the problem moving forward. It’s hard to blame all of this on the turf.

3. The Herald’s Jeff Howe did a nice job highlighting why Rob Gronkowski wants to play so badly against the Texans. The Patriots and Gronkowski added new incentives into the tight end’s contract and he’s not on pace to reach the highest level at this point in time- and missing any more time could cost him the second-tier of incentives.

Gronkowski has the opportunity to produce in the Patriots offense and it would be fantastic if he could provide the same offense every week that he did against the New Orleans Saints, but he can’t do that from the sideline.

4. RB Dion Lewis and RB James White join Gronkowski as offensive players with playing time incentives, while LB Dont’a Hightower, DT Lawrence Guy, DT Alan Branch, SS Patrick Chung, FS Duron Harmon, and LB David Harris all have playing time incentives on defense. The Patriots aren’t the type of team to sit players for the sake of reducing their annual earnings, but that’s certainly something that the players are thinking about.

Lewis, Branch, and Harris are three players that aren’t seeing the necessary playing time to come close to their incentives because there are better (and younger and cheaper) alternatives on the roster. Hopefully Branch can find his 2015-16 form and regain his role, but Lewis and Harris are unlikely to see the needed time without more injuries.

The other players are on the bubble of reaching their incentives and need to keep playing at a high level to achieve them.

5. The Patriots have intentionally brought players back from injury at a slower rate than their competitors because they would rather them be as close to 100% as possible. New England is able to do that because the Patriots have done such a strong job of building the depth of the roster- and part of building this depth is giving younger players an opportunity to play early in the regular season, as an extension of sorts for the preseason.

Don’t be surprised if a lot of the players that were listed as limited on the injury report this week are eased back on the field to give younger players an opportunity.

6. I spoke with Kenneth Levy of to see if there were any Texans that the Patriots might be able to acquire in the middle of the season as reinforcements.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Broncos standout cornerback Chris Harris Jr. declared himself healthy Wednesday, four days after Titans wide receiver Harry Douglas took out his right knee on a low block that reverberated throughout the league .

Harris said he hadn’t heard of any fines over the incident and subsequent sideline scrum when teammate Aqib Talib tussled with the Tennessee receiver, whom Talib also vowed to beat up in the offseason.

Harris reiterated his call for the NFL to fine Douglas and he said he’ll be disappointed if the league, which has made player safety a priority, doesn’t reprimand the ninth-year receiver.

Douglas wasn’t flagged for the low block, which is technically legal but which the Broncos argued was unnecessary because the two were nowhere near the pile.

The Broncos said the only purpose for the block was to injure Harris.

“There ain’t no point in cut-blocking a guy when the run’s way over on the opposite side and I don’t have no impact on the play,” Harris said.

He added that he’s “been cut all the time, but I haven’t been cut like that to where somebody just goes straight for my knees. If I’ve been cut, they’ve tried to him me in my ankles and it’s not too painful.

“But to go directly at my knee like that, I would expect them to really look at that and try to have some player safety for the defensive backs, especially when the play’s not even going toward you.”

Harris stayed on the ground for a couple of minutes after getting hurt late in the first half of Denver’s 13-10 loss. But he returned and played the rest of the game, in pain, he said.

Harris said he felt fortunate his season and even his career didn’t end on that play.

“I feel great. It was just bruised. His helmet hit my knee so it cut it open. I was bleeding a lot. So, I once that healed up, I’m pretty good now,” Harris said.

He added that several NFL players had reached out to him in support after seeing the play.

“Oh yeah, tons of players around the league did. A lot of defensive backs hit me up,” Harris said. “I just told them if you play those guys just be ready.”

Douglas defended his block on Harris and his reputation after the game, pointing out that the hit was allowable and insisting he’s not a dirty player.

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