FOXBORO, Mass. — One member of the New England Patriots’ injury-ravaged 2018 NFL Draft class returned to the practice field Wednesday.
Cornerback Duke Dawson, a second-round pick out of Florida, practiced for the first time since being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury Sept. 6 — three days before New England’s regular-season opener.
It’ll be at least another two weeks before Dawson can appear in a game. Per NFL rules, the earliest he can make his debut is Week 10 against the Tennessee Titans.
Dawson saw time as the Patriots’ top slot corner early in training camp but played in just one preseason game. He rejoins a cornerback group that features Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and fellow rookies J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen. (Rowe exited Sunday’s game with a groin injury and was not spotted at practice Wednesday.)
If Dawson is not active for a game within three weeks, he would revert to IR and be ineligible to play for the rest of the season and postseason. Last season, linebacker Shea McClellin and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell both returned to practice after IR stints but never made their way back onto the active roster.
Regardless of whether he plays, bringing Dawson back to practice used up one of the Patriots’ “IR-designated to return” slots. Each team is allotted two each season.
The most likely player to fill the second spot is running back Rex Burkhead, who was placed on IR with a neck injury Sept. 26. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, who landed on IR the same day as Burkhead with a torn bicep, has been traveling with the team, but initial reports indicated his injury was season-ending.
Activating Burkhead — which the Patriots won’t be able to do for another few weeks — would give the team valuable backfield depth after Sony Michel left Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears with a knee injury.
Because they were placed on IR before the Patriots’ 53-man roster was finalized, wide receiver Braxton Berrios, offensive linemen Isaiah Wynn and Ulrick John, linebacker Christian Sam and tight end Ryan Izzo are not eligible to return this season. Running back Jeremy Hill technically is, but his injury — a torn ACL — will sideline him until 2019.
The Patriots, who sit at 5-2, will visit the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.