FOXBOROUGH — After spending the large majority of training camp on the physically unable to perform list, tight end Daniel Fells made his preseason debut last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, confident that his veteran presence will add to the Patriots’ already explosive 1-2 combination at tight end.
The Patriots signed Fells in March for depth behind Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and although his participation has been minimal, he plans to be an important piece on a team that lacked a reliable third tight end.
“I feel confident in my ability,” Fells said. “And with this training staff and this coaching staff, they see a lot of things in me and they trust me to do whatever needs to be done to get ready and we’re going to build that confidence.”
Fells sat out more than three weeks with a leg injury before making his practice debut Aug. 19.
Coming to New England after spending the first three years of his career in St. Louis and last season in Denver — amid the constant media frenzy around Tim Tebow — his task now is to get on the same page as Tom Brady.
“It’s something that it’s an ongoing battle,” Fells said. “Every single day, you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to try to get on the same page as your quarterback — because that’s the only way you’re going to get better — and know what he sees out there up against defenses.
“So it’s a battle that we’re going to be fighting every single day. From my standpoint, it’s a battle I’m going to welcome every single day.”
In his career, Fells has caught 88 passes for 1,001 yards and eight touchdowns; now he finds himself looking up on the depth chart at a pair of tight ends who had 169 catches, 2,237 yards, and 24 touchdowns last season alone.
When he considered what their performance meant for him coming in, he said, “I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Gaps in the line
Coach Bill Belichick was noncommittal about whether he expected to play Brady and the rest of his starters Wednesday against against New York, but Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he didn’t plan on playing many of his regulars, particularly with his secondary banged up.
“We haven’t made any decisions on our playing time or any of that yet,” Belichick said Monday. “We’re just day to day. We’re trying to go out and get some things accomplished during practice, then we’ll meet after practice and talk about how we want to use players Wednesday night.”
Belichick was disappointed with the hits Brady took in last week’s loss to the Bucs, but he said they were due to more than just lapses on the offensive line.
“You never want to see your quarterback get hit,” Belichick said. “But it’s a function of a lot of things: not getting rid of the ball, protection, routes, so there’s a lot of things that come into play. Needs to be better all the way around.
“I mean, we haven’t played very well offensively in any game, with anybody, for any length of time, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The line has been unsettled with the absence of Brian Waters, and Logan Mankins missing the early part of camp recovering from his ACL injury. Nate Solder is still learning left tackle, taking over for the retired Matt Light.
The placement of defensive back Will Allen on injured reserve was a sign that cornerback Marquice Cole could be valuable going forward.
Cole broke up two passes against the Bucs, looking strong in coverage and fitting in with the rest of the secondary. But he said he isn’t getting ahead of himself with roster decisions.
“I believe the easiest part is to go out and do your best, because those decisions, you have no pull on them anyway, so it’s nothing you can control,” Cole said. “All you can do is what you can do, and that’s go out there and control what you do on the field.”
Along with his play in the defensive backfield, he showed added value playing special teams.
“Whenever I’m on the field, I’m out there giving 110 percent anyway,” he said. “So whatever they need me to do, or whatever they asked me to do, I’m going to go out there and go as hard as I possibly can.”
The personal issue that kept wide receiver Wes Welker out of last week’s game against the Bucs was the death of a family member that required him to travel back to his hometown in Oklahoma. Welker was back at practice Monday and said he expects to be ready to play in the season opener against the Titans Sept. 9
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Greg A. Bedard of the Globe staff contributed to this report.