Since they came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) last week, defensive backs and special teams contributors Nate Ebner, Jonathan Jones, and Cyrus Jones have been steadily increasing their practice workloads.
None of the trio took part in last week's preseason opener against Washington, but all of them had their most active practice on Sunday, taking more reps during 11-on-11 team periods than they had previously.
In Jonathan Jones' first defensive rep in a team period, he saw a pass thrown his way, and he managed to deflect it incomplete. That marked his first significant play since he injured his left foot in the Divisional Playoff game versus Tennessee back in January.
"You have to be ready to go and compete with the guys out there with you. They're depending on you. Felt good to be back out there," Jones remarked after practice.
Later in Sunday's session, he broke up another pass intended for tight end Jacob Hollister.
"Just trying to get out and contribute," added Jones. "Those [healthy] guys have been working hard, and I'm behind, trying to catch up. They've been putting in the fundamentals, technique, working day in and day out. I'm trying to get to where they are."
"Honestly, just taking it one day at a time, not trying to get too far ahead of myself," observed Ebner, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in late November. He had been doing mostly special teams drills before seeing some time on defense as well Sunday.
"Working on all aspects of football," he continued. "Doing a lot of things. You know, the more you can do. All aspects of special teams: different drops, football, techniques. I just have to get back into it. Really, I just come out here, do the best I can, and see how I'm feeling. I keep working to get back playing where I want to be. It's just a one-day-at-a-time focus, for real."
While admitting that it was difficult to experience their respective injuries, both men were philosophical about their misfortune.
"Injuries are part of the game," Jones stated.
"When you play this game, that's what happens. Injuries happen. You sign up for that," Ebner agreed. "It's not really something I focus too much on. I can't spend time focusing on something I can't control. It's already happened. I just have to put it behind me and start building towards the things I can control, and that's working hard, taking care of myself, strengthening, and doing all the things I need to do to get back on the football field."
Before his injury, Jones proved to be among the fastest players on the Patriots roster. He was asked Sunday if he has regained his trademark speed.
"Oh, man, it's part of rehab," he smiled. "I'm at a good point where I feel like I'm getting back. It's a process. We still have a while to go, but definitely building. I'm trying to put in good work, lay down the foundation."
Wynn in the right place
Throughout the spring practices and training camp, first-round draft choice Isaiah Wynn has been given opportunities on the left side of the offensive line. He'd exclusively played left guard and left tackle until Sunday, when he also saw time at right tackle.
Such a change can be a challenge for some linemen.
"Yeah, it's definitely a different technique [on the right side]. It's still the same fundamentals," the rookie explained, "but it's like if you're right-handed and writing with your left hand. Just got to get used to it, just think or concentrate a little more on it."
Wynn played on the left side of the line in college as well, so, it seems the Patriots might be trying to find where he fits best on their line. Curiously, Wynn saw no action in the preseason opener against Washington, but remains hopeful of getting into this week's contest versus Philadelphia.
"It was [the coaching staff's] decision and I'm just working to get better every day," declared Wynn. "I feel good. Just being able to be out here and learn from the vets, the guys around me, compete at any position. I'm just happy to be out here and getting better every day at whatever position the team needs me."
Double the fun
Twin brothers Jason and Devin McCourty have long enjoyed using their nearly identical features to play tricks on people. Even today, they saw their wives have difficulty telling them apart on the phone.
When asked to recall their best prank ever, cornerback Jason didn't hesitate, but noted that it was unintentional.
"It was Dev's draft day [in 2010]. He was in the bathroom, so, I had to answer the phone, and I spent the first part of the conversation talking to Mr. Kraft, being excited about being drafted by the New England Patriots. The second half, Dev talked to Coach Belichick. So, that was probably the best one we've done so far, but it wasn't on purpose.
"Even now," he added, "I think we're continuing to prank [people] just by walking in the door. Sometimes, people don't know who's who."
Did the McCourty brothers ever confess to the owner what they'd done?
"We've said it a lot in the media, but we never had a conversation with him [about it]," Jason grinned, "so, I'm not sure. If we had to redo that today, I still don't think they'd be able to tell who was answering."
Buy: Ja'Whaun Bentley – Coming off a strong showing in which he tied for the team lead in tackles during the preseason opener, the rookie linebacker was active again in Sunday's practice.
Sell: Phillip Dorsett – After a strong start to the summer, Dorsett's tailed off a bit. He had a few chances to make big plays during Sunday's practice and couldn't capitalize.
Play of the Day: During a 1-on-1 drill between receivers and defensive backs early in practice, when the rain was falling hard, rookie pass catcher Braxton Berrios was well-covered by a defender, but managed to make a spectacular one-handed grab while spinning 180-degrees counterclockwise and falling to the turf on his back.