The Patriots will return a pair of familiar faces when they get back on the practice field Thursday, with both quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore expected back after their COVID-19 convalescence, a league source confirmed Wednesday.
This puts Newton, the first Patriot placed on the COVID-19 reserve list after testing positive nearly two weeks ago, and Gilmore, whose positive test came to light eight days ago, on track to play when New England hosts the Broncos Sunday afternoon — a game that has been twice delayed, the second as a result of Byron Cowart’s positive coronavirus test.
Newton, who missed the Week 4 loss at Kansas City, has not suffered any symptoms, according to his father, Cecil, while Gilmore, who played against the Chiefs, recently posted on social media that he is “ready to be back in action.”
Newton has been taken off New England’s COVID-19 reserve list, while Gilmore, Cowart, and Bill Murray remain on it.
The Patriots returned to Gillette Stadium for workouts on a staggered schedule Wednesday as they continued to use extra caution to keep players safe.
The team stayed off the practice field on what is normally a heavy game-installation day but is scheduled to return to on-field work Thursday and Friday before a walkthrough Saturday. All player and positional meetings were again held remotely.
Staying off the field for an additional day is another example of how Bill Belichick has put the health and safety of his players first and foremost.
The players who spoke Wednesday all expressed an appreciation for the way Belichick and the organization have tried to protect them and keep them informed.
“I think the main thing you want to see from your coach is that you’re not just a player,” said defensive back Adrian Phillips. "You’re a human being. You have family. You have feelings. Certain situations might make you react a certain way.
"Seeing that Coach actually — he actually notices that. He cares about the family and tries to make it as much family-oriented as he can and lets his players have a voice. It’s encouraging to see.
"When you have a person who tests positive on the team, it doesn’t matter who it is, he just says, ‘OK we’re fitting to shut the whole thing down.’ That shows he cares about you as a person and not about just the wins and the losses.
“With the whole COVID situation, you can tell that Coach isn’t willing to sell out his whole team or put his whole team at risk just to get a win.”
Communication is one of the keys to success in football, and, according to defensive back Devin McCourty, Belichick has kept players abreast of every changing scenario along the way.
“I think our coaching staff, Bill, has done a good job of like, ‘Hey, this is forever kind of changing, it’s very fluid,’ but once we get it, it’s like, ‘this is what we got, this is what we’re going to do,' ” said McCourty. “And I think all of us have just kind of fallen in line to, you know, this is what Wednesday looks like for right now and then we’ll figure out what Thursday looks like and go forward from there.”
McCourty added that he would feel safe returning to the practice field Thursday, provided the team’s daily testing continues to produce the desired results.
“I think we all learned a lot from just watching Tennessee,” said McCourty. “There’s an incubation period, and I think we’re kind of moving further and further away from that and we continue to get negative tests and I think it’s definitely for all the guys a good feeling to kind of get back in there.”
Preparing without a normal amount of practice time is something all NFL players go through on occasion. As McCourty pointed out, when getting ready for Thursday games, for example, there are just walkthroughs and film.
“We’re prepared either way,” he said. “I just think as an athlete and a competitor, there’s something good about being back on the field, even what we did today . . . just doing some of the normal things you do, just makes you feel good.”
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The Patriots signed defensive lineman Carl Davis to the 53-man roster from the Jaguars' practice squad. Davis, a third-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2015, has played in 36 regular-season games with 12 starts over five seasons. The 6-foot-5-inch, 320-pounder has 32 total tackles and a half-sack.