As we noted yesterday, wide receiver Danny Amendola is out indefinitely after injuring his right ankle against Los Angeles this past Sunday. He did so while being tackled as he fielded a Rams punt in the third quarter.
The only other receivers on the active roster are Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and rookie Malcolm Mitchell. Technically, special teams co-captain Matthew Slater is listed as a wide receiver as well, although he's still working his way back from a left foot injury that he sustained last month in San Francisco.
New England also has a pair of young players – second-year man DeAndrew White and rookie Devin Lucien – on the practice squad, but neither man has been activated this week, nor have the Patriots signed any free agent wide receivers.
So, how will New England compensate for the loss of Amendola in the weeks ahead?
One option is D.J. Foster. The rookie running back not only has the physique of a slot receiver – he measured 5-10, 193 pounds at the Scouting Combine earlier this year – but also considerable experience catching the football. At Arizona State, Foster was primarily a running back, but frequently asked by his coaches to play both slot and flanker. He finished his college career with more than 200 receptions.
"I was all over the place, and I still played running back," Foster told reporters Thursday. "They moved me around game-plan-wise, wherever they needed me. I did it a lot in college. Yeah, I definitely feel comfortable at both positions."
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick apparently feel the same way. In both practices so far this week, Foster has split time between the running backs and the wide receivers when the players split up into their respective position drills.
"It's definitely tough," Foster said of the dual role and learning new aspects of the Patriots offense. "That's why my mindset has been to learn the offense as a whole, coming into this organization, throughout training camp. Learn as much as I can so no matter what position they need me at, I can help out and be productive. A lot of my teammates have been helping me out with understanding some of the stuff. It's a whole different approach, mindset, technique."
Foster has been active in just three games this season and has but one reception, a 2-yard gain that came all the way back in Week 2 against Miami. With Amendola sidelined for the time being, however, Foster could see his playing time increase dramatically in the final quarter of the Patriots schedule. He says he plans to approach that prospect the same way he has thus far in his rookie season.
"Do what I've been doing," he explained. "Try to be available, learn, keep growing every day."
Amendola, of course, was not on the practice field Thursday, and likely won't be anytime soon, according to media reports. The only other Patriot unable to suit up for today's session was second-year safety Jordan Richards (right knee).
That means two other players who were held out of Wednesday's workout were back on the field: the aforementioned Slater and tight end Martellus Bennett (right ankle/shoulder).
The big tight end declared his injury status "good… getting better."
"The thing about playing this sport is, it's always something," he remarked. "You never go through a season without having some kind of nick or tear, but there are a lot of guys playing with different things. Some guys are able to play through different injuries. Some of the same injuries, you see guys around the league go on IR. Depends on the person's pain tolerance."
Bennett first suffered his ankle injury in Week 5 at Cleveland and has been a regular listing on the injury report since then. He's been limited in practices and, at times, in games. He was asked today if the ankle could benefit from an extended period of rest, perhaps even an entire game off.
"I never thought about that. I just keep going. I'm like the Energizer bunny," he smiled. Sometimes it's [difficult] when you're out there playing with different injuries. You can't do a lot of things you want to do and you have [subpar] plays, might have a string of bad plays… but throughout the game, you find a way to get the job done. It may not be pretty all the time, but find a way to get it done."
Was it at least helpful to be given a day off from practice yesterday?
"You don't want to miss any practices or games," Bennett maintained, "but sometimes it's like, 'Thank God, I needed that.' It varies each week. Sometimes, you say, 'No, coach, I can do it today,' but sometimes, you're like, 'Oh, thanks, man, I really needed that [day of] right now.'
"I'll fight through, whatever," he concluded. "It's something my teammates and coaches know about me. I'll try to give them everything I've got, not matter what."