FOXBOROUGH — The vibes in the Patriots locker room Thursday afternoon were normal, though hours earlier Bill Belichick told the team in a morning meeting that receiver Josh Gordon, who has been suspended by the NFL, would be stepping away from the team.
The news came as a surprise to players, who were supportive of their former teammate. Gordon was suspended Thursday for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“I felt bad for him,’’ Devin McCourty said. “The way you guys felt when you read it was how most of us probably felt. I would say that sums it up to me. I think as people you feel for that. If you don’t, I guess you don’t. But as guys in this locker room, like I said earlier, we care more about him and him getting well and all of those things more than him catching passes.’’
“He was a great teammate, great guy,’’ said cornerback Stephon Gilmore. “You just try to pray about it and you hope for the best for him.’’
It was a scarcely populated locker room, but the players who came through were as they usually are. Patrick Chung and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer went over something from practice, discussing and pantomiming some element of the Bills offense. Devin and Jason McCourty and Elandon Roberts traded some friendly barbs about college football.
The players who spoke with reporters, mostly team captains, all said they wished Gordon the best and considered the situation one that transcends football. Gordon, who has dealt with addiction for years, said in a statement on social media before news broke of his impending suspension that he needed to step away from football for his “mental health.’’
“There’s so much more to us as people that a lot of people don’t get a chance to see,’’ said special teams ace Matthew Slater. “We all deal with our own issues, whether that’s trying to raise a family, trying to make a marriage work, trying to raise kids in this world. Every man has his own struggles. We all do. Players, media, whoever you are, that’s life. And it’s important for us to always have a healthy understanding of that and try to appreciate it and have perspective on that, that life is so much bigger than football. Certainly, that’s the case here and certainly, we’re going to be conscious of that as we try to support them.’’
Patriots receiver Cordarrelle Patterson missed Thursday’s practice because of illness, according to the team’s injury report.
Patterson, who figures to be counted on more significantly now that the Patriots are without Gordon, was the only player absent from the team’s in-stadium session.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned to the injury report. He is listed with back and ankle injuries, as he’s been intermittently throughout the season. Players can be removed from the injury report if they’re able to take contact and do all practice activities, so Gronkowski’s on-again-off-again status is more a reflection of his need to manage his ailments than their severity changing significantly.
Gronkowski was limited, as was linebacker Brandon King, who has a knee injury.