FOXBOROUGH — There has been more bad news than good lately about Patriots running backs, but one positive sign came Monday when undrafted rookie D.J. Foster participated in positional drills during practice for the first time this summer.
Foster had been limited to conditioning work because of a hamstring injury he had before he arrived.
“It’s been something that’s just been lingering, but I’m just doing all the rehab that I can,” said the Arizona State product.
“My teammates and coaches have done a great job just keeping me involved and keeping me involved in everything every day in the playbook and stuff, pay attention a lot in meetings, learn as much as I can so when I do get back out there I can make the best of it.”
Foster did not know whether or not he would play Friday against the Panthers.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’m still just continuing to work, and that’s on the coaching staff to just, kind of, whatever they want me to do to go out there. But I feel good.”
Bill Belichick said evaluating Foster is difficult because so far there is no way of knowing what he looks like against NFL players.
“You can’t see D.J. Foster play in this league,” Belichick said. “You have Arizona State film but that’s all you have. And some of the spring work that he did, which is obviously encouraging. We still have him, but there’s just no body of work.”
Dion Lewis’s injury and the Patriots’ release of Donald Brown give Foster a better shot at a roster spot, though it won’t be easy for him. Tyler Gaffney has had a strong training camp, and the Patriots could always sign an additional back before the season.
Foster said he tries not to think about the depth chart, and that the coaching staff does a good job limiting him to activities that he’s physically ready to do, which helps him resist the temptation to make up for the missed practices all at once.
“That’s kind of just out of my control,” he said. “A lot of moving parts and stuff always going on, so for me it’s just kind of coming to work and focusing on what I can do continuously to get healthy and just keeping the playbook and go out there and do what I can.”
Tom Brady was the big addition at practice, returning from his two-day excused absence for undisclosed reasons, but the Patriots had other players make progress in getting on the field.
Safety Patrick Chung was back after missing Monday’s session, as was defensive end Jabaal Sheard.
Sheard got back on the field for the first time since the first preseason game against the Saints, doing conditioning work on the lower field along with Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, Malcolm Mitchell, Tre’ Jackson, and Danny Amendola.
The Boston Herald is reporting that Sheard has been dealing with a sprained MCL.
Cornerback Logan Ryan was able to participate without the red noncontact jersey he has worn throughout training camp.
Lewis (PUP), Sebastian Vollmer (PUP), Jonathan Cooper (foot), Shaq Mason (hand), Rob Gronkowski (undisclosed), and Alan Branch (suspended from team) were all absent.
It’s roster-trimming season, and the Patriots confirmed the releases of Brown, cornerback E.J. Biggers, and defensive lineman Frank Kearse.
Brown had been dealing with an injury for three weeks, which denied him the opportunity to impress Belichick in practice.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Belichick. “He worked hard. He’s a really good kid. We just never really got the chance to see him.”
That leaves 83 players with one week before the roster must be trimmed to 75 by Aug. 30.
Belichick said cutting players unlikely to see the field against Carolina helps the Patriots get a clearer picture of their own roster and could help those players find second chances with other teams sooner, but the Patriots could also add players before making more cuts.
“We may release players before that cutdown, before the game,” said the coach. “Again, there is a lot of personnel movement going on at this time of year. We could acquire a player, or two, or whatever if the situation was right.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not like I have five roster moves waiting back there in the office that are about to happen. That’s definitely not the case. But look, it could be in 10 minutes, I don’t know, or it could not be.”
Either way, it’s not the time to get too comfortable.