FOXBOROUGH — On Wednesday morning, Jonathan Freeny walked into Gillette Stadium and hung his things in his old locker. Left side, near the back of the Patriots locker room. The practice schedule was typical for a Wednesday, so Freeny slid into his old routine.
There was just the small matter of signing a contract to take care of first. Freeny re-signed with the Patriots after being out of football for more than a month. The 6-foot-2-inch, 255-pound linebacker, who was with New England from 2015 up until the end of training camp this past summer, filled the roster spot vacated by tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is serving a one-game suspension.
“It’s crazy,” Freeny said. “Because I was talking to Duron [Harmon] earlier and I was like, ‘I came back today and it feels like I haven’t even been gone.’ It’s crazy. It’s like second nature to me. I love being around this place. I love being here and I’m glad to be back.”
Freeny knows the Patriots system, having played in 18 games with 11 starts during his previous stint. He said he felt comfortable enough in his first practice to say he should be able to play Monday against the Dolphins, if asked.
“My recall was pretty good of the plays and all of those things. If my number is called, I’m going to do my best to study and prepare and be ready for Monday night,” Freeny said.
Freeny, 28, is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and had been home training while waiting for an NFL team to call. Freeny played three games for the Ravens this season but hasn’t been on a roster since he was cut by the Jaguars on Oct. 28.
“I don’t know, I just felt like I wasn’t done playing yet,” Freeny said. “I know that’s how a lot of football players make it seem when they’re not ready yet, but that’s the way this game goes. It might have been my last game playing or whatever but I just knew that I wasn’t going to give it up until I was ready to.”
Gronkowski is eligible to rejoin the Patriots next Tuesday. New England will have to make a corresponding move to create roster space for Gronkowski. One way for Freeny to stick on the roster could be as an edge rusher, as the Patriots have lost depth with injuries to Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, who was limited Sunday by a calf injury.
Freeny entered the NFL in 2011 as a rookie free agent with the Dolphins and played as an outside linebacker in Miami’s 3-4 scheme before playing “all over” with the Patriots.
Freeny’s return comes as the Patriots are pushing toward the playoffs. Entering a good, and familiar, situation is a bonus, but it’s not the ultimate reward.
“It’s a reward for me being here, period, to be honest with you,” Freeny said.
Tom Brady missed his third straight Wednesday practice as he continues to use the day to get extra treatment for his Achilles’ tendon injury.
Brady could have another weapon at his disposal Monday in Miami, as receiver Chris Hogan returned to practice for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury in Week 8 vs. the Chargers.
Brady was not the only starter missing from practice as cornerback Malcolm Butler, right tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle), defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, and Van Noy also were absent.
There was no immediate word on why Butler and Wise were not at practice. The team doesn’t have to issue injury reports until Thursday because the game isn’t until Monday night.
Former Patriots coach Ron Meyer died Tuesday at age 76. Meyer died after collapsing with an aortic aneurism while playing golf in Lakeway, Texas, his family said in a statement.
Meyer coached the Patriots from 1982-84, taking over a team that finished a league-worst 2-14 and finishing 5-4 in his first season to make the playoffs in a strike-shortened season.
Facing the Dolphins at a snowy Foxboro Stadium on Dec. 12, 1982, Meyer famously called time out late in the fourth quarter and sent a stadium worker named Mark Henderson out to clear the Miami 23-yard line for John Smith’s 33-yard attempt. With a clear field, Smith made the kick and the Patriots won, 3-0.
Meyer went 18-15 with New England.
“On behalf of the entire Patriots organization, we send our thoughts and prayers to the Meyer family and the many friends who are mourning his loss,” said team owner Robert Kraft in a statement.
Tempers flared Sunday in Buffalo, with Gronkowski’s hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White and Brady’s sideline explosion directed at offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
There’s a thin line between positive aggression and destructiveness, and Belichick said Wednesday that he needs to do more to keep his players cool and collected.
“That’s important for us,” Belichick said. “That’s important every week. It’s a competitive game. There’s a lot of emotion out there. As the coach, I’ve got to do a better job of that.”
Several Bills players spoke openly after Sunday’s game that they expect the next meeting, Dec. 24 at Gillette Stadium, will be a physical one following Gronkowski’s hit on White.
With the Patriots playing in prime time Monday, Belichick was asked if he puts a little extra effort into his appearance — his clothes or his hair — when he knows he’ll be on a national broadcast.
“No,” he answered. “I think that’s obvious.”
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