FOXBORO, Mass. — Some notes and nuggets from Thursday’s New England Patriots media availability at Gillette Stadium:
— Running back Rex Burkhead carried the ball six times for 31 yards Sunday in his first game back since injuring his ribs five weeks earlier.
“It felt good,” Burkhead said. “It felt good just to get some contact again and get back into the flow of it.”
Burkhead played just 13 offensive snaps in New England’s win over the Atlanta Falcons, plus another nine on special teams — not surprising for a player who had sat out the previous four games.
His playing time should increase in the coming weeks, but given the supreme depth in the Patriots’ backfield, it’s unlikely any of their four running backs (Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and James White) will receive the number of carries that a typical lead back would.
“It’s just being a team player,” Burkhead said of splitting snaps. “You’ve just got to keep it in your mindset, working on it, not being selfish. Just being the guy that, no matter what you’re role is, no matter what they ask you to do, just do it to the best of your ability and do whatever helps the team win. That’s what you’ve got to keep in your mind and keep working on daily.”
The Patriots’ ground attack has been humming of late, with New England averaging 140 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry over the past two weeks.
— The big news of the day Thursday was, of course, the torn pectoral muscle that reportedly will sideline linebacker Dont’a Hightower for the remainder of the season.
Hightower is one of the Patriots’ best defensive players and a team leader, and losing him is a huge blow to a Pats defense that seemed to be stabilizing after its brutal start to the season.
Safety Devin McCourty, New England’s longest-tenured defensive player, was asked how Hightower’s injury compares to the one linebacker and co-captain Jerod Mayo suffered in 2014. Mayo, a Pro Bowler in 2010 and 2012, tore his patellar tendon in Week 6, and the Patriots went on to win Super Bowl XLIX without him.
“I guess it might be similar,” McCourty said. “You know, it’s always hard to judge that, because the team is different. … With Jamie (Collins) and High in there, they were two guys that had already played a lot of football. So it was tough just to fill his leadership role, but a lot of guys had a lot of football experience and I thought were ready to take on that role.”
Hightower is the only current Patriots linebacker who was with the team before last season. Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin (currently on injured reserve) joined the Patriots in 2016, and David Harris and Marquis Flowers are in their first year in New England.
“You know, E-Rob has been out there a good amount,” McCourty said. “I thought Dave got a lot of playing time last week, so he’s a veteran guy, so he’s always ready to go in there. And obviously, KV’s been out there and has played a lot of snaps this season. Guys have been out there and ready to go.”
He added: “Guys have to be ready to go when you get in. We can’t afford for it to take a while to find out who’s going to play good football. … It can’t be open tryouts each week we go out there to play a game. Defensively, that would be really bad for us.”
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images