FOXBOROUGH — After the Patriots play the Giants Thursday, there will be a nine-day gap before the team suits up for the regular-season opener in Arizona on Sept. 11.
That break, which is longer than the week between last year’s preseason finale and regular-season opener, adds another element to Bill Belichick’s decision over whom to play, and how much to play them, at quarterback against New York.
If Jimmy Garoppolo did not play, for instance, he would go 16 full days between Friday’s preseason game in Carolina and the Cardinals game without doing so, which Belichick said he considered “a factor.”
“We have to take that into consideration, too,” Belichick said. “Again, whether that overrides something or it doesn’t, we’ll just have to see, but yeah, it’s definitely a consideration.”
Garoppolo, who has said that he wants to play as much as possible, said he’d leave the considering to Belichick. Garoppolo said that as of right now he feels comfortable about starting in Week 1, and the possibility of a long break wasn’t a concern.
“I mean, that’s just not my call,” Garoppolo said. “I really don’t even think about it like that, to be honest. Whatever they ask me to do, they ask me to do.”
Garoppolo said he’s prepared. His start in the second preseason game against the Bears was a last-minute change after Tom Brady’s scissors accident, and he didn’t receive word that he would start at Carolina much more in advance.
“The Bears game, I found out like an hour before, and this past week, not very much more than that,” he said. “You kind of have to stay on your toes; you never know what’s going to happen.”
The fourth preseason game is often used to give a backup quarterback the chance to play.
With Garoppolo having started and prepared as a starter for most of preseason, that would mean giving Jacoby Brissett the reins when the team heads to New York. Belichick noted the merits of testing a backup in that situation, but since the Patriots have had to juggle Brady and Garoppolo, that may not be the priority.
“Again, there are a lot of things that would be beneficial in this game,” Belichick said. “In the end, we just have to look at the overall opportunity that we have with our team, with various units, with individual players, and try to do what we feel like is best.
“Are there other things that we’d like to do or are there different ways that we could look at it? I mean, there are.”
Branch is back
Alan Branch returned to the practice field Monday morning for the first time since being reinstated after being suspended one week by the team.
The veteran defensive tackle didn’t shed any light on why he was punished. Belichick last week said only that it was “a club matter.’’
“If Bill ain’t telling y’all, I ain’t saying a damn thing, I guarantee that,’’ said Branch with a big smile. “If you’re looking for something from me, it ain’t happening.’’
Branch acknowledged that he missed “valuable’’ time on the field and that he “loves playing here.’’
The 6-foot-6-inch, 350-pounder said the incident was a “learning experience” but that it’s in the past now and he wasn’t embarrassed returning to the locker room.
“I ain’t got nothing to be embarrassed about,’’ he said. “Everything is copacetic. My teammates are good. The coaches are good. No reason for me to walk around embarrassed at all.’’
The 10-year veteran is looking forward to playing against the Giants Thursday after missing the Panthers game.
“I’m just happy to be out here getting ready to play the Giants,’’ he said. “Glad to be out here with my teammates. We’re all grinding toward the same goal, so, that’s where we are right now.’’
Guards Shaq Mason and Jonathan Cooper also returned to the practice field. Mason (broken hand) has been out for a little more than a week while Cooper (plantar fasciitis) hadn’t been seen since July 30.
Though both were limited (they retreated to the conditioning field after stretching), their return is a good sign for an interior group that currently lacks depth.
Also heading to the conditioning field after stretching were guard Tre’ Jackson, linebacker Shea McClellin, defensive end Rob Ninkovich, and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola. Jackson (knee) was placed on the reserve PUP list. He cannot play for the first six games of the season.
Also notable was that defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who has been nursing a knee injury, stayed on the upper field after stretching. Tight end Rob Gronkowski stayed through positional drills before joining the conditioning group.
Matthew Slater, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Dion Lewis, and Sebastian Vollmer were not spotted at practice, though Grugier-Hill was in the locker room after the shorts-and-shells session.
Video: Ben Volin the discusses state of Patriots
Nora Princiotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @NoraPrinciotti. Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.