The Patriots hit the practice field on a Wednesday for the first time in three weeks this afternoon and welcomed back a stable of names returning off the reserve lists.
"Yeah, it was great being back to somewhat of a normal schedule," said Devin McCourty in the afternoon via Webex. "I think brought a lot of excitement back to the team and also that sense of urgency of how much we need to get done in practice coming off back-to-back losses and also going against a really good football team.
"I think it was a really good vibe today out there in practice."
Adding to that good vibe was also the return of Shaq Mason, Byron Cowart and Derek Rivers from the Reserve/Covid-19 list.
Mason missed the Chiefs game due to an injury and the Broncos game after being placed on the reserve list, his absence was felt in both contests, as the team was forced to juggle two rookies and an inexperienced second-year player all around the starting five. Mason's athleticism is a huge component of the Patriots ground attack.
More good news for the offensive line was the return of David Andrews to practice. The starting center was on the Injured Reserve list for three weeks with a broken thumb. If Andrews and Mason are back, it could leave just the right tackle spot in question, with Jermaine Eluemunor missing from practice and later being placed on Injured Reserve after sustaining an ankle injury against Denver.
Cowart and Rivers missed just the Broncos game and are important pieces for a defensive front that has been hit hard by illness and injuries over the last two weeks.
Joining them will be veteran free agent signing Beau Allen, who made his first practice appearance of the season. The Patriots signed Allen to a two-year deal this offseason but he was injured sometime in the early preseason and was never seen at training camp, outside of the team's in-stadium walkthrough.
"It felt good to get him back out there," said Lawrence Guy of Allen. Though there's no assurance Allen is ready to jump right in this weekend against the 49ers, he'll provide a solid rotational presence alongside Guy and Cowart. Allen has size and experience and should give the Patriots run defense a boost.
Rookie Josh Uche also returned to practice after a three-week stint on IR as well. Uche battled injuries early in the season but is hopefully back on track. Is he ready to be integrated into the defense like fellow rookie Anfernee Jennings has been of late? Uche and Devin Asiasi remain tantalizing rookies who could come on as the team enters a long, tough slate until the end of the season.
How much the returnees are ready to contribute remains to be seen, and with James White missing from practice along with Eluemunor, they might not be out of the injury woods just yet. But as far as Wednesday's practice, it was exactly the kind of injection the team needed.
Webex Quotes on Note
Lawrence Guy on the 49ers rushing attack:
"They are a really good offense. They've got a dominant offensive line. Pretty much we've got to go out there and play with good technique and try to win every single down. If we allow them to do what they do you can see that they can gain yards. When you're not doing your job on the defensive line they can gain yards. This is a 'Do your job' game and make sure you play good technique and have good leverage on the blockers so we can put a damper on the run game. It shows on film, you can see it every single week when you see teams just do too much or jump in the gaps, you can see what happens, the run game just opens up."
Hjalte Froholdt on stepping up in his first NFL action:
"The offensive line, you never know what's going to happen. Every position in football is it next man up. I was just making sure that I stayed ready whenever it was my time to go, I made sure I knew the whole playbook, I prepared like I was a starter. It was good to go and play some football. It'd be nice to get the whole offensive line back. That's football for you.
Devin McCourty on navigating the last two weeks:
"I think the team did the best we could do with every situation that came upon us. As Kevin Faulk taught me, as professional athletes in football, the best thing we do is when we get a routine and we get to stick to a routine and just become creatures of nature. Whatever we do just keep doing it over and over again. I'm not going to lie, it was great to have some type of normal Wednesday today."