McClellin practices with Patriots for first time since training camp

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McClellin practices with Patriots for first time since training camp

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick said it was "a possibility" on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was a reality. 

Patriots linebacker Shea McClellin was back on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for the first time since suffering an undisclosed injury that landed him on injured reserve before the season. 

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Belichick mentioned in a conference call this week that if McClellin was ready to practice, then practicing was an option. "If he's not ready," Belichick said at the time, "then it's not an option."

Obviously, it was an option, and the Patriots brought McClellin back as soon as possible based on the league's rules for players on injured reserve. For those who have been placed on IR, they must sit out six weeks before returning to practice. They must sit out eight weeks before playing in a game. Because the Patriots have a Week 9 bye, then McClellin's first opportunity to be in uniform would be Week 10. 

For the first time since players could be designated to return off of IR in 2012, teams are now allowed to bring back two players. 

Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell has also been on IR since the day of the season-opener, though he has not been spotted in the Patriots locker room recently. ESPN's Mike Reiss reported over the weekend that Mitchell (knee) isn't close to a return. 

Patriots defensive lineman Vincent Valentine (knee) is on IR as well and could be a candidate to return, but he was placed on the list two days prior to New England's Week 3 game with Houston so his timeline is different from McClellin's and Mitchell's. 

McClellin played in 17 games last season, including playoffs, and he finished the season with the second-most snaps of any Patriots linebacker behind Dont'a Hightower. McClellin has the ability to be a versatile piece for Belichick's defense, with experience both off the line and on the edge, and he has been a core special-teamer.

CBs Gilmore, Rowe missing from practice as Patriots prep for Falcons

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CBs Gilmore, Rowe missing from practice as Patriots prep for Falcons

FOXBORO -- For anyone looking to make sense of the Stephon Gilmore signing this offseason, all they had to do was look at the Patriots schedule. With a slate of NFC South games ahead, Bill Belichick would have to try to find a way to defend Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin, New Orleans' Mike Thomas, Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and Atlanta's Julio Jones. 

All big. All fast. All physical mismatches for most corners. 

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It wasn't the only reason to pay Gilmore as one of the top players at his position during free agency, but it wasn't a bad one -- because it's not just the NFC South. The rest of the league is getting bigger, faster and stronger at receiver and having someone with Gilmore's physical traits for the foreseeable future seemed like a logical desire to act on. 

But will Gilmore be available for when the Patriots welcome Jones and the Falcons to Gillette Stadium this weekend? After missing Sunday's game against the Jets with a concussion, Gilmore was not present for the start of Wednesday's practice. New England's other long, athletic corner Eric Rowe -- who hasn't practiced or played since aggravating a groin issue in Week 4 -- was also missing from the practice. 

Though there's still time for both players to get back on the field for Week 7, if neither is able to go it would leave Malcolm Butler, Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones at corner to figure out Jones and his fellow Falcons wideouts. 

The last time the Patriots and Falcons met, Butler played Jones only briefly. It was Logan Ryan and Rowe who saw the majority of snaps on Atlanta's No. 1. 

Bademosi saw his first defensive action of the season against the Jets, playing in 73 of 76 possible snaps and allowing three catches on three targets for 39 yards. At 6-feet, 206 pounds, Bademosi might be the player best suited to match Jones physically, but as a core special teamer for the Patriots -- and for the Lions (he played in 54 percent of Detroit's defensive snaps in 2016, a career-high) -- his level of game experience in the secondary doesn't match that of Gilmore or Rowe.

Before going up against arguably the game's best receiver, it will be worth watching if Belichick's corner depth will see any improvements this week. 

"He’s an outstanding player," Belichick said of Jones. "He’s a great blocker, strong after the catch. He’s made tremendous catches down the field. Again, he can take short plays and turn them into big plays, break tackles, gain a lot of extra yards, makes some tough first downs. He helps them in the running game, too, blocking on the perimeter. He’s a complete player."

Jimmy Garoppolo fills in for Tom Brady, earns nod from Patriots

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Jimmy Garoppolo fills in for Tom Brady, earns nod from Patriots

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady missed two practices last week and was limited for one other, leaving Jimmy Garoppolo to pick up the slack at quarterback. There was no one else. 

With no other passers on the active roster or the 10-man practice squad -- they released Taylor Heinicke from the p-squad earlier this month -- Garoppolo garnered reps as both the starter and the scout-team quarterback with Brady out. His efforts to make the most of those extra snaps earned Garoppolo some recognition from the Patriots as one of the team's practice players of the week last week. 

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Others named practice players of the week were offensive lineman Ted Karras, practice-squad defensive backs Damarius Travis and David Jones, and practice squad defensive lineman Angelo Blackson. 

Players can earn the player-of-the-week honor for any number of reasons. They may have been given the assignment of mimicking a key player from that week's opponent. They may have gone above and beyond in some fashion in order to make their on-the-field work stand out. Or, as was seemingly the case with Garoppolo, they may have seen their workload increase and managed it well.

Last week's practices may have also served a purpose beyond preparing the team for the Jets. It would have given the Patriots staff yet another extended look at Garoppolo and how he handles the offense when it's his to run. They obviously know him well, but any opportunity to see him as the guy may in some small way re-affirm their feelings on his ability to one day serve as the franchise's next starter. 

Whether it plays out that way or not is a separate story. But judging by the coaching staff's decision to award him in some small way for his work, the volume of snaps Garoppolo saw last week didn't go unappreciated.