Tavon's time? Rookie could start

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the notable developments over the last three days of practice has been the absence of starting safety Steve Gregory.

Gregory was injured in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over the Bills, and the team is listing him as having a hip ailment. With Gregory not practicing all week, it puts his status for Sunday's game against the Broncos in doubt.

Next man up: rookie Tavon Wilson.

Barring a change by the coaching staff, it could be a pressure-packed spot for the second-round pick out of Illinois, potentially making his first career NFL start against Peyton Manning.

Through four games, Wilson has logged 38.8 percent of the defensive snaps. His primary role has been at the "money" position in the dime defense (6 defensive backs), which is a linebacker-type responsibility. He also has rotated into the mix in the base defense, and overall, he has shown a nose for the ball at times (2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries).

The trickle-down effect of not having Gregory, whose smarts have been lauded by the coaching staff, would also likely impact the dime defense.

If Wilson remains in the traditional safety role, rookie Nate Ebner could get bumped up the safety depth chart and play the "money" position. The Patriots have other options, as cornerback Sterling Moore has safety experience, and Ras-I Dowling has also played the "money" spot this year.

How the coaching staff juggles things without Gregory -- assuming his week-long absence from practice is a sign he won't play -- bears watching against an experienced quarterback like Manning.

Tavon Wilson's 2012 playing time

at Bills: 34 of 71

at Ravens: 12 of 73

vs. Cardinals: 18 of 64

at Titans: 42 of 65