FOXBOROUGH — Tuesday was a busy day of roster transactions for the Patriots.
When the team strode onto the practice field, three new players were present. Wide receiver N’Keal Harry officially returned from injured reserve, tight end Ben Watson was present after re-signing, as was newly acquired tight end/fullback Eric Tomlinson.
Harry, who hurt his hamstring during the preseason and went on IR just after the start of the regular season, was back the first day he was eligible to return. He is not on the active roster, nor does he need to be to keep practicing for the next 21 days. The Patriots must activate him within that window if they want him back this season, though the earliest he can return is two weeks from now after Week 8, which would be in time for the Sunday night game Nov. 3 in Baltimore.
Regardless of when or if Harry is activated, his return to practice means he takes up one of the two return slots the Patriots are allotted for players who can come back off IR. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who can return to practice during Week 9 and, at the earliest, to game action in Week 11 against the Eagles, is the likeliest option for the second slot.
Coach Bill Belichick said Monday that the hope was to have Harry back at practice this week as long as he was physically ready. It appears he is, and teammates were pleased to see him on the field. Harry had been around for meetings and often worked with members of the training staff during practice time. Phillip Dorsett, whose locker is next to Harry’s, said he’d talked through elements of the offense regularly with Harry to help him stay up to date.
“He’s a good guy, he’s my teammate,” Dorsett said. “I want him to succeed just as much as I want to succeed, and at the end of the day if he succeeds this team succeeds.
“We all have one goal, we want to win. We know and he knows that he can help us win.”
The other potential help is in the form of the tight ends — Watson, who re-signed a week after he was released by the Patriots, and Tomlinson, whose main contributions should come in blocking.
Tomlinson entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and has been with the Eagles, Texans, Jets, and most recently the Giants.
From 2016-18 with the Jets, Tomlinson played in 39 games and made 16 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown, while also playing a sizable role on special teams. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Tomlinson has lined up in the backfield on 74 snaps in his career.
The Jets released Tomlinson around cutdown day this summer. He was picked up by the Giants and was on their roster for the first three games before being let go.
The need for new tight ends and players who can serve as extra blockers was created last Thursday against the Giants when tight end Matt LaCosse injured his knee and fullback Jakob Johnson suffered a shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve.
“You have to adjust and you use what you have left,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “There’s always a way to move the ball, there’s always a way to take care of a football, there’s always a way to try to score points with what you have and in terms of your personnel groupings. So, that’s the mentality we have to take, whether it be fullback, tight end, receiver, whatever the position is that we’re a little light in.”
Of course, the other option is to add to those positions, which is apparently the choice the Patriots made. New England had one open roster spot and added two players, creating room by waiving third-string quarterback Cody Kessler.
The team also made some moves on the practice squad, cutting kicker Younghoe Koo and tight end Jason Vander Laan, while adding receiver Devin Ross, who was at practice wearing No. 17, and offensive lineman Tyler Gauthier, who was wearing No. 67. That number had been worn by Dan Skipper, who was claimed off the Patriots’ practice squad by the Texans.
The addition of a practice squad wide receiver is potentially impactful because the Patriots had been reliant on two young receivers, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, to take all the scout team receiver reps during practices. If Ross can take some of those, that should create an opportunity for one or both of Meyers and Olszewski to get practice reps with the offense.
The comings and goings at practice were not all transaction-related.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon was not spotted during the portion of practice open to the media, and also posted on Instagram during practice.
Gordon injured his leg during last the Giants game. He did walk through the locker room at one point Tuesday and wasn’t limping.
“If you fall, fall on your back. If you look up, you can get up,” Gordon wrote in his social media post.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), safety Patrick Chung (chest), and Dorsett (hamstring) were all seen at practice.
With the Patriots playing next Monday, they won’t have to distribute an injury report until Thursday, when it will be clear to what extent those players nursing injuries are able to participate.
Kickers work out
The Patriots also hosted kickers Nick Folk, Greg Joseph, Austin MacGinnis, Austin Rehkow, and Giorgio Tavecchio for workouts.
With Stephen Gostkowski on IR for the rest of the season, the Patriots currently have Mike Nugent as their kicker. Nugent was 5 for 5 on extra points and missed his lone field goal try, a 40-yarder, in windy conditions last Thuesday in his first game with the Patriots.
With the Patriots also having released Koo, they are keeping their free agent kicker list and information up to date.