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FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Damien Harris #37 of the New England Patriots looks on before a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Patriots could be getting some reinforcements this week, on both sides of the football.

New England placed four players on injured reserve ahead of the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, and under modified rules for 2020, they’re all eligible to come back this week. Consistent with prior IR rules, players can return to practice, and at that point the team has 21 days to activate them to the main roster.

Head coach Bill Belichick noted the challenges of evaluating players returning from IR, mainly that even if someone practices, he may not be ready to play for 1-3 weeks.

“Yeah, I mean, we’ll see how it goes,” Belichick said. “I mean, the first step would be to practice a player that’s on injured reserve and then whether he would be active or not would depend on what happened during the course of the week. Sometimes, those guys, they’re not ready to play as soon as they start practicing. They need another week or two.

“So, if we do that, it would just be based on that player’s individual situation and how we can evaluate the guy during the time that we have to look at him, whether that’s a week, two weeks, three weeks, whatever it is. So, the first step would be to start him at practice and that starts the clock running on the activation process and then it becomes an evaluation process as we take it day by day.”

Who’s Back?

Damien Harris is one of four Patriots players who are eligible to return to practice from injured reserve this week. (Photo courtesy New England Patriots)

Damien Harris is one of four Patriots players who are eligible to return to practice from IR this week. (Photo courtesy New England Patriots)

Running back Damien Harris is perhaps the most notable player on IR. The second-year pro out of Alabama impressed reporters in attendance at training camp. He looked in line to be the starter before going on IR with a hand injury.

Another sophomore who appeared to take a step forward in camp was wide receiver Gunner Olszewski. He appeared on the Week 1 injury report with a foot issue before ending up on IR. It’s unlikely Olszewski would crack the top-3 pecking order among the receivers right away, but he would at least provide an opportunity to preserve Julian Edelman in the slot or move him outside the numbers on certain plays.

(UPDATE: Harris and Olszewski returned to practice on Monday. The Patriots now have 21 days to activate either of them to the main roster.)

Second-year tackle Yodny Cajuste is also eligible to return this week. However his presence feels less necessary in light of the emergence of rookie Mike Onwenu. But perhaps Belichick feels he should give Cajuste a look at right tackle, where Jermaine Eluemunor has played the majority of the snaps so far this season. Onwenu started at left guard after Joe Thuney shifted to center in the absence of David Andrews, who will miss at least two more games as he recovers from a broken thumb. So it’s likely that the rookie stays in that spot for the time being.

MORE: Patriots Promote J.J. Taylor, Damien Harris Goes On IR

On defense, Beau Allen is eligible to return to practice as soon as this week. The veteran former Broncos defensive tackle spent all of training camp on the shelf, so he would certainly qualify as a player that Belichick may need to evaluate for a week or two before activating him. But the Patriots could also use the 6-foot-3, 327-pound Allen as a natural nose tackle on the defensive interior.

Elsewhere on IR…

The aforementioned Andrews will miss at least two more games, and will have an extra week to recover with the Pats’ bye coming in Week 6. The same can be said for rookie linebacker Josh Uche, who has been on and off the injury report with multiple injuries to start his first NFL season.

Wednesday will provide the first indication of who’s able to return to practice in Foxboro.

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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.