On the coldest day of the season here in Foxborough (temps barely reached the 20s Fahrenheit), it proved to be an eventful day on the Patriots' practice field, both in terms of who was there and for who wasn't.
For the first time since early September, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell put on a jersey and pads and took part in a practice. His appearance on the field today is significant because it means the Patriots have elected to use the second of their two options to bring players back from the injured reserve list. While a number of players were technically eligible for this designation, it seemed that only Mitchell and defensive lineman Vincent Valentine were viable options.
The decision to go with Mitchell is mildly curious as well given the recent signing of veteran pass catcher Kenny Britt. New England now has a three-week window in which to decide whether Mitchell will be activated to the 53-man roster. The Patriots can do so at any point during that window. They had a similar opportunity to bring linebacker Shea McClellin back from IR earlier this year, but eventually chose not to do so.
Meanwhile, newcomer James Harrison made his debut in a Patriots practice uniform, just one day after signing with New England. The veteran linebacker came out wearing jersey No. 92, the digit for which he is most famous for wearing as a Pittsburgh Steeler. That number was owned most recently by defensive end Geneo Grissom, who traded it for 96 when Harrison arrived.
As has been the case more regularly over the past month, QB/co-captain Tom Brady sat out Wednesday's practice, presumably to treat the Achilles heel injury that has kept him out of the first practice in recent weeks. It's possible that another reason could be the cause of Brady's absence. We'll find out for sure when the team releases its first injury report of the week later today.
In addition to Brady, two running backs weren't spotted today. We already expected Rex Burkhead not to be there as he continues to nurse a right knee injury, but it was a bit of a surprise that Mike Gillislee didn't join his teammates. He had a solid game against Buffalo on Christmas Eve and didn't appear to sustain any injuries during the contest.
On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Alan Branch also remains sidelined with a right knee issue.