FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots returned to the field on Thursday for a full-contact practice after having Wednesday off, and the story of the day was injuries. Most importantly, wide receiver Julian Edelman passed his physical and returned to practice for the first time since injuring his foot in early December. Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon was surprisingly missing, and cornerback Ras-I Dowling spent the second half of practice on the sideline:
Physically unable to perform: TE Rob Gronkowski (back); WR Mark Harrison (foot); DE Armond Armstead (non-football illness).
Red jersey: S Devin McCourty.
Missing: Cannon, who appears to be leading the battle to win the right guard job, was nowhere to be found, and was replaced by Tyronne Green. It was the first practice Cannon has missed this camp. RB Brandon Bolden was in uniform, but sat out his third straight practice with an undisclosed injury.
New injuries: CB Ras-I Dowling suffered an undisclosed leg injury at some point and spent most of the practice on the sideline or on the exercise bike.
Returning from Injury: WR Aaron Dobson returned to practice after sitting out Tuesday’s session with a minor foot injury. Edelman returned to practice for the first time this season, as did DL Cory Grissom.
■ Rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins blew past three defenders — Kyle Arrington, Aqib Talib and Steve Gregory — on a deep bomb over the middle that would have gone for a 70-yard touchdown.
■ Dowling made a really nice breakup of a slant pass intended for Quintin Sims before injuring himself.
■ QB Tim Tebow showed really nice touch on a lob to Dobson for a touchdown, over DB Justin Green.
■ QB Tom Brady also displayed beautiful touch on a deep corner pass, dropping it right into Josh Boyce’s arms to beat the Cover 2 defense.
■ LB Steve Beauharnais intercepted Tom Brady in the back of the end zone in goal line drills.
CB Marquice Cole: Took a lot of snaps with the first unit today with Dowling injured and Alfonzo Dennard on the sideline.
OL Green: Took reps at right guard for the second straight day and could be first in line for one of the backup interior line spots.
WR Boyce: The rookie fourth rounder got a lot more opportunities with the first team and is catching most passes thrown his way.
WR Kamar Aiken: After starting camp with the first unit, appears to have fallen behind Boyce, Edelman and Thompkins.
Dowling: Hard to make the club when you’re always nicked up, and Dowling needs to get back on the field soon to ward off Cole and others.
LT Nate Solder: Didn’t look great in 1-on-1 drills, whiffing badly against Chandler Jones and then getting beaten by Jake Bequette.
Tebow is never going to have a perfect practice, but his accuracy was much better Thursday. In goal line 7-on-7 drills, he hit Danny Amendola on a quick out for a touchdown, threw a square-in to Aiken in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, and also had a nice lob to Amendola in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Tebow ran a few read-option plays — it could have just been to help the defense prepare for it down the road — and once again ran the scout team in the 2-minute drill.
After practice, Tebow threw passes with a teenage kid wearing his jersey for 15 minutes, then obliged the small throng of fans who patiently waited 40 minutes for his autograph and a few pictures.
ODDS AND ENDS
■ Watched the OL/DL 1-on-1 drills today. Here’s a recap:
Vollmer vs. Ninkovich: Ninkovich jumped offside, forced to run a lap
Tyronne Green vs. Tommy Kelly: Kelly with the decisive win
Ryan Wendell vs. Marcus Forston: Wendell held his own
Mankins vs. Wilfork: Wilfork dominated
Solder vs. Chandler Jones: Solder completely whiffed
OT Kevin Haslam vs. DL Jason Vega: Vega jumped offside, forced to run a lap
Haslam vs. Marcus Benard: Benard with the decisive victory
OL Markus Zusevics vs. Kelly: Kelly jumped offside, forced to run a lap
Zusevics vs. DL Joe Vellano: Zusevics held him off
OL Josh Kline vs. DT Anthony White: Draw
OL Chris McDonald vs. Forston: Draw
Will Svitek vs. Justin Francis: Francis won, and was dragged down from behind
OL R.J. Mattes vs. DL Michael Buchanan: Mattes held him off
Wendell vs. Vellano: Wendell stoned him
Mankins vs. Forston: Forston jumped offside, forced to run a lap
Solder vs. Jake Bequette: Bequette beats him around the edge
Zusevics vs. Kelly: Zusevics with the win
McDonald vs. Benard: Benard destroyed him with a swim move
Svitek vs. Jones: Svitek with a nice winContinued...