New England Patriots

Aug 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) reacts during the first half against the Washington Football Team at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Jonnu Smith has plenty of ability. But he’s also placed a premium on what’s become a big topic this week: avail-ability.

Smith hasn’t been the most durable player during team workouts, but has impressed in his speedy returns to the practice field while remaining present as often as possible. The Patriots’ high-priced tight end missed the majority of OTAs with a hamstring injury, according to the Boston Herald, but returned for the start of mandatory minicamp. He appeared to injure his hamstring again at the start of minicamp in June, but was present and limited for the remainder of it.

Smith was then a full participant at the start of training camp in July, and remained so until suffering an ankle injury on Aug. 15. He traveled to Philadelphia but didn’t participate in the ensuing joint practices with the Eagles, or last Thursday’s preseason game. But Smith once again made it back on the field in full at the start of the following week.

As he fell behind in physical reps, Smith told reporters on Tuesday that he made sure to stay sharp in other ways.

“Yeah, that was definitely a competitive week up there [in Philly] that we had as a team,” Smith said. “Of course, physically, I couldn’t be out there, but mentally, I just stayed as locked in and as engaged as I could.

“As far as the physical goes, I was just rehabbing, getting back. And, it’s another great opportunity to make up for those reps. It’s going to be a competitive week this week again with New York coming to town. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

Aug 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) runs the ball after a catch against the Washington Football Team during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) runs the ball after a catch against the Washington Football Team during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Though it’s unfair to compare injuries with unknown levels of severity, Smith’s ability to quickly work his way back from injury has been a stark contrast to Hunter Henry, who continues to rehab a shoulder injury suffered Aug. 8. Henry attended Tuesday’s practice in Foxborough, but was limited in a red non-contact jersey. Henry participated in individual drills, but not in full 11-on-11’s.

Smith, meanwhile, underlined the importance of availability by showcasing his ability. He caught five passes in 11-on-11 drills, including a “touchdown” in the back of the end zone. Smith leaped to reel in a back-shoulder throw from Mac Jones and tapped both feet in bounds for what would’ve been a score. He made another catch against tight coverage by safety Adrian Phillips, who has had the tight ends’ number for the most part in camp. The ankle and hamstring looked fine.

Smith also made his presence felt in his only preseason action, taking a short pass from Cam Newton around the line of scrimmage for a 16-yard gain after the catch. Smith has a chance to be a real asset in that area, as well as the red zone and down the seam, and could emerge as the Patriots’ No. 1 pass-catcher.

But none of that would matter if Smith couldn’t get on the field in the first place. Considering how frequently he’s been banged up on multiple occasions in camp, Smith’s availability has been a relative success, and he earned a high mark in that area on Tuesday.

“I’m just getting back into the swing of things, just getting back comfortable with everything,” Smith said. “The couple days I had to recover was big for me. And, I’m out here feeling good, feeling healthy, ready to go.”

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Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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 and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.