Where Patriots go from here with James Develin and fullback spot

The Patriots must consider roster options after losing fullback James Develin to a broken leg. AP Photo/Mike McCarn

CHARLOTTE -- New England Patriots fullback James Develin broke his right tibia in Friday's preseason game against the Panthers and was scheduled to have surgery in Charlotte, which sparks the question: What's next for the team and Develin?

Exploring time frame: Develin suffered what was described as a clean break, which led to some initial optimism/hope internally that he could return in 6-8 weeks. That time frame was met with skepticism by one doctor with a background on such injuries.

Roster management: The Patriots must trim their roster to 75 by Sept. 1, and then be at 53 by Sept. 5. One discussion that figures to take place is weighing the probability that Develin could return at some point this season vs. placing him on injured reserve. Even if it is projected that Develin could return at some point, a team can only "hold" so many spots on its roster. A short-term IR designation could also enter the discussion, meaning Develin wouldn't count against the roster but could return later in the season. The team would likely have to be convinced that the 6-8-week time frame is realistic to consider that option.

No other fullbacks on the roster: The Patriots don't have a pure fullback on the roster outside of Develin. The club released Eric Kettani this week. Kettani was a long shot to make the final roster regardless of Develin's health status.

Develin's role in the offense: In 2014, Develin played 19 percent of the offensive snaps. Some weeks, he was a big part of the plan (e.g. 30 snaps vs. Colts) when creating a hard-charging downhill running game with a two-back set was a priority. Other weeks, he was hardly used (3 snaps vs. Jets). He's also a regular on the kickoff return team, with his blocking skills tapped in the wedge.

Could lead to extra tight end being kept: The fullback position is often tied to the tight end spot, which is reflected in how Develin breaks down with the tight ends in individual drills in practice. The Patriots have Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, Michael Hoomanawanui and Michael Williams atop the depth chart at tight end, and maybe this opens the possibility they keep all four. Hoomanawanui could be worked more in the traditional fullback role. assuming the right lower leg/foot injury he suffered Friday isn't serious.