FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ top three punt returners are Cyrus Jones, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. It’s likely none of those players will be in action Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
Jones and Edelman both are done for the season with torn ACLs, and Amendola has yet to practice since suffering both a concussion and a knee injury in last Thursday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Which begs the question: Who will return punts for the Patriots this weekend?
It likely will not be wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who came over in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts earlier this month.
Dorsett returned punts early in his college career at Miami but made just two cameos back there during his two seasons with the Colts. He said he hasn’t practiced in that role since he joined the Patriots on roster cutdown day.
“I haven’t done it in a while,” Dorsett said Friday. “But if I was called on to do it, I would be able to do it. It’s nothing but just practice, just going out there and getting your reps.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick called punt returning “a priority item” just a few weeks ago, so it’s unlikely the team would use Dorsett in that role without first seeing how he fared there in practice.
Dorsett likely will play a significant role on offense against New Orleans, however, simply because the Patriots do not have many other options. With Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on injured reserve and Amendola and Matthew Slater (who also did not practice this week) unlikely to suit up, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Dorsett are the only healthy wide receivers on New England’s 53-man roster.
The Patriots also could choose to promote either Demarcus Ayers or Cody Hollister from their practice squad, with Ayers, who played three games for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, looking like the more likely candidate.
To prepare for his increased role, Dorsett said he’s immersed himself in the Patriots’ playbook this week.
“Study,” the 24-year-old said. “Everything. Just keep your head in the playbook. Whatever you write down, go home, write it down again. Just trying to remember everything you were taught.”
He added: “(The coaches) pull me aside, and I’ll do a little walkthrough or something like that. But just working. Nothing new. Everybody works, so I’ve just got to keep doing that.”
As for who will return punts against the Saints, safety Patrick Chung seems to be the top candidate. He filled in for Amendola after injuries knocked the wideout out of last week’s game. Ayers also has experience at the position, amassing 290 yards and a touchdown on 28 punt returns as a senior at the University of Houston in 2015.
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