What Malcolm Mitchell's return to practice means for Patriots offense


FOXBORO -- We were expecting to see a hulking No. 92 in blue on the Patriots practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. The wispy No. 19 in white was a bit of a surprise, though. 

James Harrison's first practice with the Patriots also happened to mark Malcolm Mitchell's return to weekly on-the-field work for Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels' offense. Mitchell was placed on injured reserve just before the Patriots played their season-opener with the Chiefs. A knee injury he suffered against the Texans in the preseason kept him sidelined until this point. 


I spoke with Mitchell last week who expressed optimism about how his recovery was going. He has been at the team's facilities, rehabbing, doing whatever he's been asked. Indications I'd gotten were that even Mitchell had been unaware of any plans for him to return, but now those plans have come into greater focus. 

The Patriots can activate Mitchell at any time, but there is a 21-day limit on the look the Patriots can take as it relates to the second-year wideout. If he's not activated in that span, he'll return to season-ending injured reserve. 

Every NFL team, starting this year, had the opportunity to bring back two players off of IR. The Patriots had Shea McClellin practice earlier this season after he began the year on IR, but he was deemed unable to be activated and has returned to the reserve list. 

What does Mitchell's potential return mean for the Patriots offense? Simple. He's a trusted weapon for an offense that has been lacking in that area of late. Outside of Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis, Tom Brady has been unable to make consistent connections with his other targets, including Brandin Cooks, who just exceeded 1,000 yards in his first season in New England. 

Rex Burkhead (knee) and James White (ankle) missed last weekend's game with the Bills, as did Chris Hogan (shoulder). As a result, the Patriots deployed receivers Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett as wideouts behind Cooks and Danny Amendola. Mitchell's addition would in all likelihood mean less work for that duo on the outside. 

Mitchell caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four scores in the regular season last year. He also made a successful first professional foray into the playoffs, catching six passes for 70 yards in Super Bowl LI.

Harrison worked out with Patriots defensive ends at Wednesday's shells-and-sweats practice. Missing from the session were Burkhead, Tom Brady, Mike Gillislee and Alan Branch. 

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