Tight end Ben Watson was back at Patriots practice on Thursday, a good sign for a unit that has lacked production through the first four weeks of the season. Watson entered the league as a first-round pick in 2004 and played with the team through the 2009 season, grabbing 167 catches and 20 touchdowns.
After coming out of retirement to re-join the Patriots this past spring, Watson opened training camp with the team but suffered a concussion in the third preseason game and missed the final two weeks before starting a suspension that cost him the first four games of the season. In his absence, the team produced just four total catches from their tight end group, a total that should dramatically improve with Watson back in the mix.
Last season with New Orleans, Watson had 35 catches for 400 yards and two touchdowns. He might not be the same player he was when he was in New England a decade ago, but he's still a proven and reliable NFL player who can help the team.
Receiver Phillip Dorsett was happy to see the 38-year-old back on the practice field.
"It's been great," said Dorsett. "Ben's a really great dude, a really good guy to lean on when it comes to anything. He always has an open ear. He always has an answer for everything. It's just great for him to be back out there. I know he's been itching to be back."
With Julian Edelman still battling a chest injury, the addition of Watson will give Tom Brady another trusted target in the middle of the field. Watson famously had two touchdown grabs up the seam against Buffalo in 2009 opener to cap off an unlikely comeback. Anything even near that kind of production would be a welcome addition to a team that lacked some offensive spark last week in Buffalo.
Dorsett marveled at how players like Brady and Watson are still getting it done.
"Guys like that still going, it's just a blessing for them to even be playing at this age," said Dorsett. "Just seeing the way they are, the way they carry themselves, the way they work, it's just amazing to see."
The team has a roster exemption for Watson and would need to activate him and make a corresponding move by Saturday afternoon if they want him to play against the Redskins.
In addition to Watson's presence at practice, new kicker Mike Nugent was also spotted wearing number two. His signing was officially announced by the team in the afternoon. He also had a stall set up next to Stephen Gostkowski in the locker room.
"Mike's a complete professional, played in this league for a long time," said long snapper Joe Cardona about Nugent after his first practice with the team. "Obviously made a lot of great kicks. Right now it's just about building chemistry and building it fast so we're ready for Sunday.
There was perfect attendance at practice, with these players showing up on the afternoon injury report:
RB Rex Burkhead, Foot
S Patrick Chung, Heel
S Nate Ebner, Groin
WR Julian Edelman, Chest
WR Josh Gordon, Knee
LB Dont'a Hightower, Shoulder
DE Michael Bennett, Shoulder
Locker Room Sound Bites
Duron Harmon on Devin McCourty being named AFC Defensive Player of the Month:
"It's amazing. Dev's always played really good football here, elite football for 10 years now. He's always been a stand up guy and the ball's finding him this year. We always talk about how important turnovers are, he has four already himself. He's playing great football. We just gotta keep it going as a group."