Free agent linebackers Orlando Ruff and Sam Cowart worked out for the New England Patriots on Friday. Both are veterans who have seen action at the inside position, making them prime candidates to backup Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel.
The Patriots injury concerns have spilled over to every position with one of the hardest hit areas at linebacker. New England lost free agent MLB Barry Gardner for the year before the season started. Second-year player Ryan Claridge was released during roster cutdowns, Undrafted rookie free agent Freddie Roach was injured and fell victim to roster cuts.
Once the season began, the injuries continued. Junior Seau broke his arm in late October, while Don Davis injured his knee a little over a week ago. Both were placed on IR ending their season and reducing depth in the inside. When Eric Alexander had a setback with a shoulder injury in early December, the need for veteran depth increased.
New England gathered a fair amount of attention this week for the roster moves that were made at the tight end position, in the defensive secondary and the release of wide receiver Doug Gabriel. The next area to require attention is at linebacker. With Ruff and Cowart in for tryouts, it appears the Patriots are serious about adding veteran talent to a very thin unit.
Ruff, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound Furman product last played for the Cleveland Browns in 2005. In his eighth season, Ruff played for the Chargers, Saints and Browns. Experienced at inside linebacker, Ruff could be utilized as a reserve behind Bruschi and Vrabel. The Browns, coached by former Patriot defensive coordinator Romeo Crenel, run a 3-4 defense similar to the Patriots. Ruff had a season to learn the scheme in Cleveland, which should help him adjust more quickly if the Patriots opt to bring him onboard.
Cowart, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound Florida State product has played for the Buffalo Bills (1998-2001), New York Jets (2002-04), Minnesota Vikings (2005) and was with the Texans earlier in 2006. Cowart lost out to a camp battle at middle linebacker with DeMeco Ryans in Houston and was released September 1, 2006. Also an inside backer, Cowart could fill the role Barry Gardner was working on before he was injured.
The Patriots currently have one open roster spot after the release of O.J. Santiago earlier this week.