FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Monday, Julian Edelman finally put on pads and a practice uniform to join teammates in his first on-field session of the summer. The veteran wide receiver and reigning Super Bowl MVP has been on the non-football injury list (NFI) heretofore with a left thumb injury.
Edelman headlined a list of players who were on the practice field again after being sidelined either for an extended period or in recent days. Fellow wideout Demaryius Thomas (Achilles heel) also looked like an active participant for the first time as a Patriot, indicating that the veteran free agent could now be off the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
In addition, veteran receivers Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris were back in uniform after developing unspecified injuries last week in joint practices with the Tennessee Titans, while rookie pass catcher N'Keal Harry, injured in joint sessions with Detroit a week earlier, also donned full pads today.
"Feeling good. I'm feeling good," Dorsett told reporters about 90 minutes prior to the start of today's workout.
Staying with the receiving position, Josh Gordon (currently on NFI) and Cameron Meredith (PUP) joined teammates for stretching at the start of practice, but neither was in pads. Tight end Matt LaCosse, injured against the Lions in the preseason opener, also made a return to the practice field in full uniform.
Safety Patrick Chung shed the red (no-contact) jersey he's been sporting most of the summer and went back to his normal blue practice jersey.
However, two players injured this past Saturday night in Nashville against the Titans were not spotted at today's practice. DE Derek Rivers and OLB Shilique Calhoun both appeared to suffer right knee injuries during the second preseason contest. At this point, NFL teams are not required to submit injury reports to the league, so, it's unclear just how severe the injuries to Rivers and Calhoun are.
Meanwhile, after being away from the confines of Gillette Stadium for most of the past two weeks, thanks to joint training camp practices with the Lions and Titans, the Patriots sounded happy to be back on their home turf Monday as they prepare to welcome the Carolina Panthers for Thursday night's third preseason tilt.
"That's the best part about it, just getting home," added Dorsett. "We've been on the road, what, two weeks, away from our families, girlfriends, wives. It's been tough, but we've got three weeks home, finally. I can sleep in my own bed. We're comfortable where we are. We just need to hit the ground running."
"Been on the road a little bit. Good to be home in front of the home crowd. Looking forward to it," RB Rex Burkhead smiled. "It's a great team, Carolina, especially defensively. They've always been good. It's a great challenge for us and we're going into it like a regular [season] game."
As Burkhead suggested, this third week of the preseason marks both the end of the public viewing portion of the preseason practice schedule and a shift to more of a regular-season-like week of game preparation, including more film study of the opponent.
"A lot more," Burkhead emphasized. "You're not going against them [in practice] during the week, so, it's a little different [than having joint sessions]. It was a good past couple of weeks and now, with Carolina, we're really going to have to be prepared and give them our best effort.
"We're nowhere near the team that we should be or we want to be. So, we'll clean up some things and keep going. We've got to keep improving every single day. We know there's an opportunity every day in practice. Hopefully we can do that."
"It's good to be back home, definitely, and kind of get in the routine here at home," center David Andrews acknowledged. "We haven't played a game here [yet this preseason], so that game routine, which is different than on the road for obvious reasons, will be good practice for that."
Thus far, most of New England's regular starting players on both sides of the ball have been held out of preseason game action by the coaching staff, but that is likely to change Thursday night. The third game of the summer is typically when the expected starting lineups see the preponderance of their preseason game reps, which is why this week is universally considered a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Next week's fourth and final preseason affair, when the Patriots host the New York Giants, will likely feature players who are battling to make the 53-man roster.
"I just do what I'm told and prepare each week like I'm going to play," remarked Andrews, a co-captain the past two seasons. "It's not my decision. You always want to go out there and compete if you love competing, but at the same time, the coaches make the decisions. It's our job to follow those decisions."
The Patriots are scheduled to have another padded practice on Tuesday, followed by a walkthrough session on Wednesday, before taking the field against the Panthers Thursday night.
Gordon gets going
On top of the health news among the wide receivers mentioned above, Gordon rejoined his Patriots teammates this week after the NFL lifted his indefinite league suspension late Friday while the club was in Tennessee. The 28-year-old had been found in violation of the league's substance abuse policy last December and prevented from being at Gillette or at any team functions ever since.
Now, however, he's permitted on a conditional basis to begin working his way back onto the roster, and teammates welcomed his return Monday.
"He's good. It's refreshing to see him," said Dorsett. "When you haven't seen somebody – one of your brothers – in a long time and then you see him, it's definitely refreshing.
I love Josh. Just glad to have him back. Obviously, he's a physical specimen. We all know that. Last year, he helped this team out a lot. We're definitely hoping he can come back and do the same."
"I've briefly been able to say hello to him," added Burkhead. "He's a great player, great guy. It's a pleasure to see him around again. Great addition for our team. Whatever the coaches ask of him, I'm sure he'll be ready to do. It's just good seeing him around again. Of course, we're all rooting for him and hoping he does well."
Saubert settling in
Early last week, New England traded a future draft pick (reportedly a conditional seventh-round choice) to Atlanta in exchange for veteran tight end Eric Saubert.
The move may not have been a complete surprise to observers of the Patriots, as the team's already thin tight end depth chart took a hit when LaCosse went down with an injury during the preseason opener against the Lions.
One person who was caught off guard by the move, though, was Saubert himself.
"Yeah, for sure. I didn't really see that coming," he told New England reporters during his first meeting with them Monday, "but it's the nature of this business and I'm here now. So, I'll put my best foot forward and focus on contributing for this team.
"I'll do anything for this team that they ask me to do – catch passes, block, be a wide tight end, tight end, special teams. It's a big part of what I do."
No sooner did the 25-year-old Saubert arrive from Atlanta last week than he had to take part in his first practice on Tuesday, the same day the Patriots traveled south to Nashville for joint practices with Tennessee. Saubert is now getting a chance to settle in to his new surroundings in Foxborough.
"Yeah, I've got a lot of catch-up and work to do," he observed.