A mixture of positive and troubling news from Patriots practice this midday.
Obviously, there was no sign of wide receiver Julian Edelman (right knee) and rookie defensive end Derek Rivers (left knee), who are both dealing with reportedly season-ending medical issues (the Patriots have yet to assign either player to injured reserve).
However, it was mildly surprising not to see left tackle Nate Solder on the field Monday. The veteran returned to action in practice last week after missing much of training camp and the preseason with an undisclosed injury. He even went so far as to speak on the record with reporters after his first day back on the job. His absence at the start of today's session originally seemed to indicate a setback of some sort, but he clearly had taken part after the media viewing portion, judging by his post-practice appearance with teammates in the locker room.
New England remains thin at Solder's position, with backup LaAdrian Waddle still recovering from a concussion (he suited up for practice, though) and rookie Tony Garcia having been missing from practice entirely for the past few weeks.
In addition, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell remains out of commission after appearing to aggravate a right knee two games ago. Other non-participants in Monday's session included safety Nate Ebner, who missed the Lions game last Friday for unknown reasons, linebacker Shea McClellin (unknown), and rookie OLB Harvey Langi (unknown).
Now for some good injury news, as the Patriots welcomed back special teams co-captain Matthew Slater to the field for the first time since early in training camp, when he appeared to suffer a leg injury of some kind. Also back in action, running back Rex Burkhead, who did not take part in practice last week or the Detroit game, for reasons unclear.
Special teams maven Brandon King (unknown) is back to wearing a blue jersey. He donned a red (non-contact) one all last week and did not appear in the Lions game. This would seem to be an indication that he's progressing in his recovery.
Meanwhile, rookie offensive lineman Andrew Jelks (knee) and rookie defensive end Keionta Davis (neck) continue to appear during practice in shorts and t-shirts to conduct rehabilitation exercises for their respective ailments.
Elsewhere, after parting with a pair of defensive ends over the weekend (Kony Ealy and rookie Caleb Kidder), New England had room on its 90-man roster to add a few new players. It's unclear at the moment who they are, except that they are all defensive players, based on the blue jerseys they wore at today's practice. Two of them appear to be defensive linemen, wearing jersey numbers 66 and 64, while the other might be a linebacker/safety, as he sported a 46.
Filling Edelman's void
Edelman's devastating injury dominated much of the locker room interview discussions Monday, with players on both sides of the ball lamenting his loss for the upcoming season.
"I'm going to miss him every day, man," admitted his close friend and fellow receiver Danny Amendola. "He'll be around. He's a leader on this team. We're going to miss him on the field. Obviously, he's bummed, but he's a strong kid. He's one of the strongest people I know. So, he'll be better for it."
"I'm praying for him. Just praying that he heals as fast as possible," remarked wide receiver Brandin Cooks. "Continue to encourage him, to have great thoughts. That's all you can say right now.
"It's very unfortunate. A guy like that – a warrior – who works so hard. We'll definitely miss him for now, but at the same time, we know we have to get ready and keep the wheels turning, do what we have to do to make up for that."
Safety Duron Harmon indicated that Edelman's seemingly limitless energy will be difficult to replicate on the field.
"He comes out there ready to play, has that energy, that motor. He's like the guy that, if he's on your team, you love him, but if he's not on your team, you hate him. So, that presence is something we're going to miss, but injuries come across every football team. We've got to find guys to step up and carry the torch."
"Guys are going to have to step up," asserted wide receiver Chris Hogan. "You can't dwell on stuff like that. Obviously, you hate to see that happen to a guy like Julian who works really hard, but there's a lot of talent on this offense and a lot of guys we'll look to to step up and make plays.
"Just stay within yourself and whatever you're asked to do… the 'next-man-up' mentality. Jules is a great player. He was the leader of that [wide receiver] room. He's a guy that people look to. He helped me a lot, coming here last year as a first-year player here on this team and this offense. He was a guy I looked to for answers and will continue to do that."
Hearts go out to Houston
For some on the Patriots, it's challenging to focus on football with all that's happening down in Texas at the moment. A number of players call the Lone Star State home, which is being assaulted by Hurricane Harvey at the moment.
Linebacker Elandon Roberts, a Port Arthur native, recalled being evacuated to Houston for a month in 2005 following Hurricane Rita's impact on the region.
"Nothing you can really do about it. What you can do right now is pray for the area," said Roberts. "We all come together when stuff like that happens."
Thanks to the way the preseason schedule unfolded, the Patriots just missed being in Houston by a week. However, players like Amendola still have family in the area who are dealing with the storm's treacherous consequences.
"Yeah, my dad lives there. They're good. It's crazy to see, and they're trying to do all they can to help. They're getting a lot of rain, a lot of flooding, but their house is okay.
A couple of weeks ago, we were just in Houston, driving down the same streets that are under water now. It's unfortunate. Natural disasters, you can't do much about it besides help all we can. That's what they're doing down there.
"I wish I could get down there and clean some stuff up, try to help."
To assist in rescue and relief efforts, Patriots owner Robert Kraft today announced that he would match up to $1 million in donations to the American Red Cross in support of its Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund.
"That's awesome," added Amendola. "The more you can do to help. Houston's a strong town, so is Texas. They'll pull it together."