There's no denying how integral Darrelle Revis was to New England's championship season last year. So, it will be bittersweet for many Patriots to see him this Sunday on the opposite sideline. It will mark Revis's first return to Foxborough since rejoining his original club, the New York Jets, during the offseason.
"Yeah, I liked playing with him. There's no doubt about that," QB Tom Brady acknowledged this week. "I obviously love keeping great players. That helps our team win, and unfortunately people have to move on at times and it didn't work out.
"He's a supremely talented player," Brady emphasized. "He's got such a great skill set and knowledge of the game. He's just got great instincts and his ability to shadow receivers and play the ball. He's had a bunch of plays this year. He's really been a great playmaker for this [Jets] team this year. It's tough to get open on him, and he usually draws the toughest matchup."
Having had a year with Revis as a teammate gave the Patriots an enviable opportunity to work against one of the game's best defenders each day in practice. It will be intriguing to see how that manifests itself on Sunday when they face each other again as rivals. Could Revis match up against Julian Edelman?
"I mean, [Revis] made me a better player," wide receiver Julian Edelman declared. "He's an elite corner. I'd say he's probably one of the best in the league. And going against him definitely made me a better receiver. It was good to have him."
"You know, [Julian] and Darrelle had a lot of great practice interactions last year where they were going one-on-one against one another," Brady added, "so he's a guy who's definitely a huge playmaker for us and we're going to need [Edelman] to make a bunch of plays on Sunday."
It's unlikely that Revis will be asked to cover Rob Gronkowski, but the two of them worked one-on-one frequently in training camp last year while the All-Pro tight end was working his way back from a knee injury.
"He was a great player, so every time in practice last year you can go up against a player with such a skill set you just try and get better as a player," Gronkowski recalled. "He just comes in ready to work. He's a professional, and he's always ready to play the game."
"One of the best corners to ever play the game," Brady reiterated. "Now we've got to go against him, so we've got to try to figure out ways to get our guys open. And hopefully we can go out there and compete hard and make some plays when we need to."
Opportunity for Fleming
Last Sunday in Indy, Marcus Cannon was asked to start at left tackle in place of injured regular and co-captain Nate Solder. However, after just one series, Cannon suffered a toe injury and couldn't continue.
That prompted the Patriots to move right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to the left and insert second-year man Cameron Fleming at right tackle. Fleming had been toiling on the practice squad until Solder's injury, when the club promoted him as insurance. As it turns out, New England had to put a claim in on that policy.
Fleming is now expected to start this Sunday against a formidable New York Jets front seven.
"I'm just preparing the best I can and trying to fulfill any role that they give me out there," the lineman said Thursday.
A fourth-round draft choice in 2014, Fleming saw action in seven games as a rookie, starting two of them as a blocking tight end, and now that injuries have mounted at his position, he's getting a chance to see significant playing time in the weeks ahead. An example of patience and hard work paying off?
"Yeah, you could say that," said the 23-year-old Houston native. "It's more about staying prepared and being ready to contribute when you're called upon. You don't stop being competitive. I was always prepared if they were ever to call on me. That was my main focus, just to get ready to play."
No setbacks, it seems, for wide receiver Brandon LaFell (physically unable to perform list with a foot issue) and center Bryan Stork (short-term injured reserve due to a concussion). Both players suited up for their second consecutive practice as they attempt to bounce back from their respective medical problems.
Not-so-good prognosis, however, for rookie guard Shaq Mason, who missed his second straight session with a knee injury. Ditto for the aforementioned Cannon and DE Jabaal Sheard (ankle). LB Rufus Johnson hasn't yet practiced this week due to an unspecified illness.
Wide receiver Keshawn Martin and running back Brandon Bolden, meanwhile, both came down with hamstring injuries during Thursday's practice.