Patriots hurting for healthy bodies

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Football is all about X's and O's, but recently for the New England Patriots, it's been more about X's and Ow's.

Just when it appeared the Patriots were getting closer to becoming healthier, they've taken a step back toward the training room.

The most recent area of the roster to be hit hard is the secondary, where safety Brandon McGowan (undisclosed injury) and cornerbacks Leigh Bodden (rotator cuff), Terrence Wheatley (foot/ankle) and Kyle Arrington (groin) all were held out of Monday's practice.

The good news for the group was that safety Brandon Meriweather, who was knocked out of Thursday's game against the St. Louis Rams with a leg injury, was on the field and in one piece.

"It's a contact sport; things happen," Meriweather said after the full-pads workout on the steamy practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. "You just have to put the trust in the people that are out there, and you have to move on."

The severity of the injuries remains a mystery, with Bill Belichick joking Monday that there was a "less than zero" percent chance he would be providing any type of injury report before he was mandated by league rules to do so. Thus, with Belichick protecting the team's competitive advantage, any definitive answers on the status of injured players might not be forthcoming until Sept. 8.

But that doesn't overshadow how the depleted roster creates a difficult situation in the here and now.

The Patriots must trim their roster from 80 to 75 players by Tuesday afternoon, and the prognoses on the banged-up players figure to be a significant factor in the decision-making process. That seemed to be what Belichick was referring to Monday when he said there were "moving parts" that needed to be considered.

While the secondary has been hit hardest recently -- and that doesn't include the previously injured Bret Lockett (undisclosed) and Josh Barrett (shoulder) -- it is not the only area with injury issues.

The depth on the defensive line was thinned considerably Monday with reserves Ron Brace (ankle), Myron Pryor (undisclosed), Darryl Richard (foot) and Brandon Deaderick (undisclosed) all held out of practice. On the opposite side of the line, veteran Nick Kaczur (back) remains sidelined.

Meanwhile, receiver Julian Edelman (undisclosed) has been out of practice since playing six snaps Aug. 19 against the Falcons, and rookie outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who was knocked out of practice Aug. 11 and had his lower leg examined by trainers on the field, hasn't practiced since.

Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has been out of practice for a week, also is part of the walking wounded. But watching Hernandez play catch with quarterback Tom Brady after practice Monday, with Hernandez running at a high speed, it seems his absence is more of a maintenance issue at this point.

All told, the Patriots were without 14 players for Monday's practice.

The number would have been even higher had offensive lineman George Bussey and receivers Matthew Slater and Darnell Jenkins not returned to practice for the first time in weeks. Inside linebacker Eric Alexander also was back after missing last week.

Managing the roster with so many health questions lingering is a challenge for Belichick & Co. It also can be challenging for the players trying to keep things together on the field.

"We just come out and work hard and continue to build," Meriweather said. "I think that's the only thing you can do."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.