New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The New England Patriots are finally getting Julian Edelman back on Thursday night. And they’re combining him with Rob Gronkowski for the first game in a long time.

As reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Gronkowski is “expected to be active” against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium. The tight end returned to practice in a limited capacity for Wednesday’s walkthrough, after missing practice on Tuesday. The team also listed Gronkowski as a non-participant on Monday’s hypothetical practice report.

Edelman did not appear on the injury report and will return against the Colts. Tom Brady’s most trusted slot receiver sat out the first four games due to a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. According to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Edelman is also expected to return punts after Cyrus Jones served that role in Weeks 3-4 against the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins.

Thursday marks the first time Gronkowski and Edelman are both active since Nov. 27, 2016, when the Patriots beat the Jets 22-17. However, Gronkowski made no catches and left that game in the first quarter with a back injury that ultimately knocked him out for the rest of the season.

The last time Gronkowski and Edelman both had at least one catch was on Nov. 13, 2016 against the Seattle Seahawks. Edelman caught seven of nine targets for 99 yards, while Gronkowski made just three catches for 56 yards. The last time they both scored a touchdown was Oct. 30, 2016 against the Buffalo Bills.

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots celebrates his first quarter touchdown with Julian Edelman against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO, MA – JANUARY 16: Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots celebrates his first quarter touchdown with Julian Edelman against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Big question for Gronkowski and Edelman is their snap counts. It would be a surprise if Gronkowski played a full workload with how limited he’s been by the ankle injury. Or perhaps he simply needed a light few days and he’ll be good to go from Thursday on. The injury has reportedly been described as minor in nature.

Edelman should see a pretty big role right away, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bill Belichick didn’t shoot him out of a cannon and eased him in a little bit while continuing to get Josh Gordon into the mix. But as far as slot receiving roles and third downs, expect to see Edelman on the field just about every time.

Thursday also marks the first time that Brady will have Gronkowski, Edelman, and James White all at his disposal in a game since Nov. 2016 against the Jets. With Edelman suspended and Gronkowski hobbled, White was Brady’s most targeted receiver from Weeks 1-4. He already has four total touchdowns on the season, to go with 303 total yards on 43 touches.

The idea that Edelman would return punts would indicate that the Patriots plan to heavily involve him in the offense. Brady remarked “we’ve played a lot of football together” about himself and Edelman, hinting that he doesn’t foresee much rust between the Patriots’ prolific connection.

Hopefully, for the Patriots’ sake, Edelman is the same player he was at the end of the 2016 season pre-ACL injury. He should energize the team and significantly improve them on third down, as well as open up the field more for the other receivers and especially Gronkowski. After a concerning start to the season for Brady and the offense, Edelman has an opportunity to really let the unit take off.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.