Eight days before Super Sunday, the Patriots and their fans got some very good news Saturday.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski was back on the practice field at Gillette Stadium. Gronkowski has been out since suffering a concussion in the AFC Championship Game victory over the Jaguars last Sunday. Here's how he looked, via NBCBoston's Perry Russom:
The Jags' Barry Church, by the way, was fined $24,309 by the NFL for the helmet-to-helmet hit that injured Gronkowski, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss.
Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, who also sustained a concussion against the Jags, was also back. The Boston Herald reported that despite practicing, Gronkowski still is out of the NFL's concussion protocol. Being cleared to participate in non-contact practices is the fourth step of a five-step process.
Defensive lineman Malcom Brown (foot) was the only player absent from practice Saturday.
Still, it's a good sign that Tom Brady's top target is back on the field more than a week before the Pats take on the Eagles in Minneapolis.
Brady practiced without a glove on his throwing hand for the first time since he injured it at practice in the week leading up to the AFC title game. He had the black tape across the cut below his thumb just as he wore in the victory over the Jags.
The Patriots will practice in Foxboro Sunday before leaving for Minneapolis on Monday after a send-off rally at Gillette Stadium at 9 a.m.
The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Broncos game:
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
DT Malcom Brown (ankle)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
WR Chris Hogan (shoulder)
WR Danny Amendola (knee)
TE Martellus Bennett (shoulder)
CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle)
DE Cassius Marsh (shoulder)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
ILD Todd Davis (ankle)
WR Emmanuel Sanders (ankle)
T Donald Stephenson (calf)
FOXBORO -- The Patriots took the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday without three starters.
Marcus Cannon, Chris Hogan and Malcom Brown were all missing from the start of the workout, which was the team's second of the week. Cannon has an ankle injury, which he aggravated against the Chargers in Week 8. Hogan is dealing with a shoulder issue that occurred at the end of the win over the Chargers two weeks ago. Brown has an ankle ailment, and he has not practiced since suffering the injury in the second half against the Falcons in Week 7.
How would the Patriots fill in if they were to be without any of those three for this weekend's game in Denver?
* LaAdrian Waddle would likely be the choice to play right tackle should Cannon miss time. He subbed in for Cannon against the Chargers and performed admirably, according to offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Waddle and Cameron Fleming are the team's two swing tackles, but Waddle has earned the nod over Fleming most recently.
* If Hogan can't play, that could mean more work for Phillip Dorsett. The former Colts wideout has drawn solid reviews from both Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels this week, and because the Patriots lean so heavily on their 11-personnel packages that could mean Dorsett finds himself heavily involved as the team's No. 3 receiver.
* Brown missed the win over Los Angeles, leaving more work on the interior of the defensive line for Lawrence Guy and Alan Branch. The Patriots recently signed Ricky Jean-Francois to their active roster, and he could provide some interior presence for Belichick and Matt Patricia moving forward.