It's almost like LeGarrette Blount never left.
Almost… because it's not every day you see a running back wearing jersey number 60.
"Hahahaha…yeah, that's a funny one, huh?" joked defensive lineman/co-captain Vince Wilfork. "I didn't know if he was a new offensive lineman or long snapper or what. But it's good to see him back here."
Check out photos from access to players and coaches during Week 12 as the Patriots prepare to play the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium this upcoming Sunday.
"I wasn't that familiar with him, with number 60 out there," tight end Rob Gronkowski laughed. "Thought he was going to be blocking for a little bit with the linemen. But he's looking good. Great to have him back. We had a great time with him last year, so, looking forward to getting him back into it."
Blount fled Foxborough this past offseason in free agency, after one season in New England, where he quickly became a locker room favorite. The veteran ball carrier apparently wore his welcome out in Pittsburgh this season, however, and the Patriots were more than happy to bring him back.
"Hopefully, he'll be able to help us," Wilfork continued. "We're looking forward to it. He knows what we do around here. Hopefully, he'll pick up where he left off."
"It's good to have him back. LeGarrette's a great guy and a great teammate," remarked fullback James Develin.
The timing of the move is somewhat ironic, though, after first-year man Jonas Gray was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. But Gray insists he's not threatened by the arrival of a popular player at his position.
"I think we're both going to motivate each other," predicted Gray. "We kind of knew about each other before, and the guys here have had nothing but good things to say about him. The running back position, they always talk about the camaraderie. Right away, even on the practice field, we acted like we've known each other for a long time. I've heard he was a funny guy, did funny things, pleasure to have around the locker room.
"I wasn't necessarily surprised. In this business, not a whole lot surprises me, especially given where I've come from. I believe in Bill and whatever he's doing. I just come to work every day. I never get into questioning what the coaches do. I believe in the system. It's worked for me, and I believe in the Patriot Way. It's worked for a long time. I'm just excited to come to work every day. Focused on this game this week.
"I go with whatever the game plan is," Gray added. "Even if [Blount] wasn't here, you never know what your opportunity is going to look like. I'm preparing the same way I always prepare. When my number's called, I'm going to execute."
If "not a whole lot" surprises Gray these days, certainly his NFL honor and SI cover qualified as stunners.
"That was pretty cool," he conceded with a grin.
Lions can roar
While New England's backfield got a boost with Blount's return, this week's opponent, Detroit, has a dangerous one as well, with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell sharing the bulk of the ground duties.
Wilfork recalled how Bush, a former Miami Dolphin, often gave the Patriots fits and expects more of the same this Sunday when the Lions come to town.
"They do a real good job of getting those guys in the game. They're an explosive offense. That's a tough team in general. They know what it takes to win. They've been grinding all year. Shows you a lot about them as a team. They know how to get it done. We'll have to match that. They've been in some dog fights.
"It's unbelievable the talent they have on this team. On the ground, they haven't done much, but I'm sure they'll get that going soon. We have a little history with 21 over there," Wilfork said with a smile.
The Patriots went back outside to practice on Thursday. IR/designated-to-return DL Sealver Siliga was not among his teammates, however. He'd been on the field, his first appearance at a practice session since late September, on Wednesday when the team conducted a walkthrough inside their practice bubble.
Also missing were DE Chandler Jones (hip), rookie DL Dominique Easley (right knee), rookie o-lineman Cameron Fleming, who injured his left ankle late in the Colts game. Fleming was seen in the locker room Thursday wearing a medical boot on his left foot.