FOXBORO, Mass. — As Aaron Hernandez walked through the Patriots' locker room once again on Thursday morning, there was no sign of any lingering effects from the low-ankle sprain he suffered in a Week 2 loss to the Cardinals.
While Hernandez's appearance in the locker room was nothing new, as he'd been spotted for a few days now, it was his return to the practice field that really made waves.
Hernandez, who hadn't been seen at practice since injuring the ankle on Sept. 16, returned to the practice field on Thursday afternoon — a sign that the tight end's recovery is progressing even faster than expected.
The original timeline for Hernandez's return was projected between six and eight weeks, with four weeks being a possibility, but near-miracle scenario. But after Thursday's appearance, Hernandez seems awfully close to a return to game action.
Hernandez took the practice field at Gillette Stadium with his teammates, going through some agility drills and eventually running some routes in position drills. Practicing — even limitedly — with his teammates is a good sign for Hernandez, but his return would really be a blessing for Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense.
Without Hernandez in the lineup, the Patriots have struggled to adjust their offensive game plan, and Brady has even seemed flustered at times. The addition of Kellen Winslow was supposed to help lessen the blow, but that experiment didn't last very long. Nothing is quite as good as the real thing anyway, and the offense would be ecstatic to reinsert Hernandez as soon as possible.
Now, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Just because Hernandez is at practice doesn't necessarily mean that he'll be starting or even active for Sunday's game against the Broncos. But a return to the field — and apparently physical contact, given he wasn't wearing a red jersey — seems to indicate he is on the fast track back to game action, maybe even as early as Week 6 in Seattle.
There are still some hurdles that remain before Hernandez finds himself back in the Patriots' starting lineup. This is the type of injury you want to heal fully, and it's not something you want creeping back up later in the season. But even if Hernandez doesn't suit up on Sunday, and he likely won't, his speedy return to the practice field can only be a good sign for the Patriots.