The New England Patriots are getting healthy over the bye week, as two key contributors returned to practice this week.
The New England Patriots made some headlines this week with their practices. That may raise some eyebrows. The Patriots are a professional team, what is special about them practicing? It drew headlines because head coach Bill Belichick was taking his normal no-nonsense approach despite the inclement weather in the northeast.
The only player that was not present was running back Mike Gillislee. He was not present because of injury. Gillislee was injured in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills and missed the regular season finale.
His role heading into the postseason was, more than likely, going to be minimal. Dion Lewis has assumed the lead back role, while James White handles passing downs. Gillislee would move further down the depth chart since Rex Burkhead returned to practice this week as well.
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Burkhead has been sidelined since the Week 15 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He injured his knee in the game but avoided serious injury.
Having Burkhead back in the lineup will help a Patriots offense that sputtered at times in December. Tom Brady had by far his worst month of the season as injuries and suspensions to his skill players hampered his performance.
In addition to Burkhead, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski both missed time in December. Gronkowski was sitting out because of suspension and will be good to go for the postseason. Hogan’s status is up in the air after re-aggravating his shoulder injury in Week 13.
In addition to Burkhead, the Patriots also got defensive tackle Alan Branch back to practice this week. Branch missed the final three games of the regular season because of a knee injury suffered against the Miami Dolphins in Week 13.
Branch gives the Patriots another big body to rotate in the middle of their defensive line behind Lawrence Guy and Malcolm Brown. Veteran Ricky Jean-Francois has been filling in for Branch in the meantime. With Branch back, Jean-Francois could be inactive during the postseason and held onto as insurance.