Patriots practice squad wide receiver DeMarcus Ayers could get a shot on New England’s active roster before the season is over. And it seems as if there’s no time like the present for Ayers, who has more experience as a punt returner than any other healthy player on the Patriots.
Cyrus Jones and Julian Edelman were expected to be the Patriots’ top punt returners this season before both players were lost for the season with torn ACLs over the summer. Danny Amendola became the Patriots’ top returner in Week 1 but suffered a concussion and knee injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday. Safety Patrick Chung was next in line after Amendola got hurt, but he’s such an important cog in the defense that it seems risky to put him back as a returner.
Perhaps Ayers, who was signed to the Patriots’ practice squad Sept. 4 after he was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers, could get a shot. It sound like head coach Bill Belichick is considering it.
“DeMarcus has played inside and outside, and he has returned punts,” Belichick said Friday. “We’ve looked at him doing all of those things as a practice-squad player. Definitely making progress. They’re never really ready to go into the game when they come in this late, but a lot of times they do and will based on circumstances or need or whatever. We’re just trying to get him ready. He’s certainly a lot more ready this week than he was last week.
“If he keeps progressing, he’ll push for an opportunity to play. He works hard, has done everything we’ve asked him to do and gotten better at it.”
Ayers returned five punts for the Steelers last preseason for 14 yards two punts for 23 yards this summer. He returned 33 punts for 317 yards with a touchdown during his three-year playing career at the University of Houston. Ayers also worked extensively out of the slot in college. The Patriots could use depth in that role with Amendola’s status in doubt for Week 2. The Patriots currently only have three healthy wide receivers on their 53-man roster.
Other potential punt returners on the Patriots’ roster include wide receiver Chris Hogan, who warmed up in the role Thursday night, and Brandin Cooks, who spent time catching punts during training camp. It seems unwise to put either of those players at risk in the role too, however, given the team’s shallow depth at receiver.
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