The New England Patriots released their inactive list for their 2019 season opener against the Steelers on Sunday night with a couple surprise inclusions.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas are among the seven inactive players for New England against Pittsburgh.
Demaryius Thomas was listed as questionable on Friday and was on the injury report all week dealing with a hamstring ailment. Van Noy, meanwhile, is a bit of a surprise. He is missing the contest because his wife is in labor, a possibility previously known by the team.
Van Noy tweaked his knee in the Patriots preseason victory over Carolina but returned to the game a couple series after his injury. He was a full participant in practice during the week.
Damien Harris is another inactive who was injured during the preseason but was a full participant as well this week. Obi Melifonwu was limited, however, during the week with an ankle injury.
The other inactives are rookies Joejuan Williams, Byron Cowart, and newly acquired offensive tackle Korey Cunningham.
Williams had come into his own late in the preseason and took snaps at both safety and corner, impressing the coaching staff. As for Cowart, he was also a late bloomer and shocked many with his interior pass-rushing ability that shown through during the final two preseason games. Cunningham, meanwhile, is an extra tackle and was likely to be inactive for the season opener.
Who Steps Up?
These absences give opportunities for other players to make an impact on a big stage. The one who benefits most is Shilique Calhoun. The linebacker who struggled to recover from an injury sustained in the Patriots’ second preseason game will likely see some snaps on the edge tonight.
Calhoun showed some good flashes during practice and the preseason opener and could turn out to be a key contributor on the Patriots defense and special teams units.
With Thomas out, an opportunity for increased snaps is there for undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers. The NC State product was heralded during the preseason and saw a lot of action with Tom Brady in practice. But in a game situation, Meyers struggled to reel in passes from Brady.
Gunner Olszewski will also be active for his first game, and what a story he has been. A former defensive back for NCAA Division II Bemidji State, he made the transition to wide receiver, earned a tryout with the Patriots, and his hard work ultimately paid off when he made the roster.
Without a backup tackle, there could be an issue should Isaiah Wynn or Marcus Cannon get hurt for the Patriots. Joe Thuney can slide over to left tackle should there be any issue on that side, while a guy like Jermaine Eluemunor could be forced into action on the right side in an emergency.
This also means New England will have the services of tight end Matt LaCosse. He was also listed as questionable in his continued recovery from an ankle injury suffered in the preseason opener. His ability to play is a positive for New England, adding an element of run blocking in the Patriots first contest without Rob Gronkowski.