FOXBORO, Mass. — One of the Patriots’ best defensive players of the last decade was back on the practice field Wednesday.

No, it wasn’t Matthew Judon, who’s expected to miss at least the next two months after tearing a tendon in his biceps during Sunday’s blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

But the former New England standout could play a role in the team’s plan to replace Judon.

Defensive end Trey Flowers, a two-time Super Bowl champion during his first stint with the Patriots, made his 2023 practice debut as New England began preparations for its crucial Week 5 matchup with the New Orleans Saints.

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Flowers signed with the Patriots in training camp but began the season on the physically unable to perform list as he recovered from a foot injury he suffered last October. The 30-year-old battled a steady drumbeat of injuries in recent years that limited him to seven games in 2020, seven in 2021 and four in 2022.

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You have to go back to 2019, Flowers’ first season away from New England, to find the last time he was a consistently effective player. He had seven sacks and 21 quarterback hits in Matt Patricia’s defense that year before his career went sideways.

Given that recent track record, Flowers is far from a safe bet for the Patriots. He’s more of a low-risk lottery ticket, where anything they get from him at this stage of his career is a bonus.

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But if Flowers can even come close to replicating the type of player he was in his first Foxboro go-round, he’d provide a big boost for a defense that just lost its best player.

From 2016 to 2018, Flowers led all Patriots defenders in sacks (21), tackles for loss (25) and QB hits (59), all by wide margins, as New England won a pair of Super Bowls and played in a third. He plays a different position than Judon — he’s a versatile, hand-in-the-dirt D-lineman; Judon is a stand-up edge rusher — but could provide some of the pass-rushing ability New England loses with its Pro Bowl defender on the shelf.

Again, that’s assuming Flowers turns back the clock several years, and that he’s even healthy enough to get back in the gameday rotation. The Patriots have a 21-day window to add him to the 53-man roster, after which he’d revert to the PUP list and be ineligible to return this season.

“He was here during that dynasty when (the Patriots) were winning championships,” fourth-year linebacker Josh Uche said Wednesday, “so it’s great to have somebody around that’s been around a winning culture.”

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Replacing Judon likely will be a group effort also involving Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Jahlani Tavai and rookie Keion White, whom linebackers coach Jerod Mayo singled out as someone who “is going to play more” moving forward.

The Patriots will play their first game without Judon (and standout rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who also suffered a major injury last week) when they host the Saints this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images