FOXBORO, Mass. — One of Josh Gordon’s closest allies during his initial stint with the New England Patriots was Jack Easterby, the team’s character coach.

Following Gordon’s trade from the Cleveland Browns last September, the wide receiver frequently was seen alongside Easterby, who took an active role in helping Gordon adjust to New England and navigate the off-field issues that have followed him throughout his NFL career.

Those issues caught up to Gordon last December. After playing in 11 games for the Patriots and posting impressive receiving numbers, Gordon was indefinitely suspended by the NFL for violating the terms of his reinstatement. He was unable to join the team for its Super Bowl run and was barred from taking part in spring practices and training camp.

On Friday, one day before New England’s second preseason game, the league conditionally reinstated Gordon. He was allowed to return to Gillette Stadium over the weekend and rejoin his teammates at practice Monday, though he remains on the non-football injury list.

Most of the teammates who helped Gordon along last season still are with the team, but one key member of his support system is gone: Easterby, who left New England this offseason to become the Houston Texans’ executive vice president of team development.

Speaking before Tuesday’s practice, longtime special teams captain Matthew Slater admitted Easterby’s impact will be difficult to replicate.

“I don’t know,” Slater said. “It’s tough. Jack Easterby is one of a kind. No one’s going to be able to do what Jack did, obviously. Everyone can kind of hopefully find their niche and go from there.”

Providing Gordon with the help and support he needs will be a team effort, Slater said.

“I think everyone has to do a good job of managing their expectations,” Slater said. “I think you have to live in the moment and just take things every day at a time and support him however you can. And that’s going to look a little differently for everyone depending on their relationship with him, but I think it’s important that he feels supported and that everyone just (says), ‘Hey, let’s take things one day at a time and go from there.'”

Various suspensions have severely limited Gordon’s availability over the years. He’s played a full 16-game season just once in his career — as a rookie in 2012 — and appeared in just 10 total games over four seasons from 2014 to 2017. The Patriots are happy to have him back, though, and Slater viewed his latest reinstatement as a positive development.

“I think the fact that he back points to things going well for him off the field, and that’s the most important thing,” Slater said. “I don’t care if the guy can catch 200 passes a season. Is he doing OK as a man? Is he in a good place mentally, physically? And obviously, I think this step, as far as him coming back, means that he’s in a better place. So that’s the most important thing.”

Thumbnail photo via Tim Fuller/USA TODAY Sports Images