FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick likes using the preseason to practice every esoteric football situation he can dream up, so that nothing catches his team by surprise in the regular season.
Thursday against the Lions, his team might have a new scenario to practice: what it will be like to play without No. 1 receiver Danny Amendola.
Amendola, who is expected to replace Wes Welker, once again was absent Tuesday, the second day in a row he has missed practice because of an undisclosed injury. Although the injury is not considered serious, Amendola has been banged up throughout his four-year NFL career, and has missed 20 games the last two years with elbow, triceps, and clavicle injuries.
Belichick said only that Amendola is “day to day,” though it appears unlikely he will suit up against Detroit after not practicing all week.
It is unclear when Amendola was hurt, but a review of last Friday’s game against Tampa Bay showed Amendola taking a shot to the back of the neck as he curled up to protect himself after making his sixth and final catch of the night with about four minutes left in the second quarter.
Amendola jogged to the sideline after immediately signaling he needed to come off the field, but it is unclear whether he was hurt or simply tired.
Amendola missed two plays and returned for one more, a third down on which he failed to connect on a pass from Tom Brady. Amendola finished with 71 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Amendola was the only player not present at Tuesday’s practice, but several others worked with trainers off to the side: cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Ras-I Dowling, tight end Daniel Fells, receiver Kamar Aiken, defensive lineman Justin Francis, and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon.
Safety Devin McCourty once again did not wear the red non-contact jersey he has worn through most of camp, and guard Dan Connolly (shoulder surgery) appeared to get some work with the second team.
Work to do for Tebow
Tim Tebow had one of the worst performances of his professional career, completing 1 of 7 passes for minus-1 yard, an interception, and a 0.0 passer rating against the Buccaneers.
When asked what it’s like to see that stat line, Tebow replied, “You definitely want to do better in some areas. And also you have different things happen that you just try to handle the best way you can.”
Belichick emphasized this week that Tebow, like all players, will be judged “on the whole body of work” and not just exhibition games. Tebow has completed just 5 of 19 passes (26 percent) for 54 yards, an interception, and a 17.7 passer rating through two games, and has added 10 carries for 61 yards on the ground.
Roster cuts are due a week from Saturday, but Tebow said he is not sweating it.
“I’m just worried about improving every single day and having fun out there at practice,” he said.
The Patriots still have two exhibition games before focusing on the Bills, their Week 1 opponent, but Belichick definitely ramped up the intensity this week in preparation for Thursday’s tilt at Detroit.
The third exhibition game is traditionally when the starters play the most — at least the first half — and Belichick tried to treat this week as a game week so the players can get used to the schedule and preparation.
Belichick said the Patriots have practiced some of the Lions’ plays this week — they did very little, if any, game-planning for the Eagles and Buccaneers — and treated Tuesday’s practice like a regular Friday.
“Definitely, I could feel the transition,” rookie receiver Aaron Dobson. “They said this game was definitely going to be more intense out there.”
Belichick wouldn’t commit to how much he will let Brady and the starters play against Detroit. The Patriots will look to accomplish certain things on both sides, and Belichick doesn’t know if those things will be accomplished until the second or third quarter.
The Patriots signed veteran tailback Leon Washington to a one-year, $1.2 million contract in large part because of his abilities as a kickoff returner. Washington, now in his eighth year out of Florida State, has eight career kickoff-return touchdowns with the Jets and Seahawks, including a 98-yarder last year.
Washington is in the thick of a tough roster battle with LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, and fullback James Develin, and hopes his kickoff-return prowess will give him an edge, even though NFL rules instituted before last season have resulted in far more touchbacks.
But Washington said the value of kickoff returners increases at the end of the season, when the weather is colder and the ball doesn’t fly as far, and he referenced Jacoby Jones’s kickoff-return touchdown for the Ravens in February’s Super Bowl.
“It’s limited opportunities, but when you do get them, you got to make it count,” Washington said. “Guys are still getting opportunities, and at the end of the season when you need it the most, i.e. Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl, you make it happen then.”Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin