Surprise: Aaron Hernandez returns to practice
Hernandez began practice Thursday with a limp, but looked much more comfortable just a few minutes into practice, though it was clear to spectators that he is not yet at peak agility. A return to action this week against the Broncos would beat his timetable, and NFL Network's Albert Breer has reported that Hernandez is a "virtual certainty" to miss the game. However, it's great news for both the Patriots and Hernandez's fantasy owners that he has made a return to the practice field, and he looks to be on pace to play in Week 6 against the Seahawks.
This is really a best case scenario for Hernandez, as high ankle sprains can nag players for much longer than it seems to have bothered him. Multiple reports out of New England over the summer suggested that Hernandez was Tom Brady's new favorite target, so his return could mean big things for the Patriots' already lethal offensive attack.
Fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski has been pedestrian so far this season, averaging under five catches a game and less than 70 yards, though he has found the endzone three times and is coming off of a very strong performance against the Bills.
The return of Hernandez means nothing to the playing time of Gronkowski, as the Patriots run two-tight end sets on almost every play when both players are healthy. Hernandez could, however, eat into the production of Wes Welker, who is the odd man out when the Patriots go to two-tight, one-wide formations.
Hernandez is one of the most skilled and versatile tight ends in the entire league, and any team that plays the Patriots in the coming weeks was hoping that ankle injury would hold him out a little longer.