Mitchell (knee) returns to practice, giving Brady five WRs to work with

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Mitchell (knee) returns to practice, giving Brady five WRs to work with

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Mitchell was back at Patriots practice on Thursday after sitting out all of last week's workouts due to a knee injury. The rookie receiver appeared to be hobbled after making a reception against the Jets in the third quarter of his team's Week 16 victory, and he was not active for the regular-season finale in Miami. 

With Mitchell back in the fold, the Patriots now have five receivers to work with: Mitchell, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Michael Floyd. Amendola returned to practice on Thursday after missing every practice and game since injuring his ankle in a Week 13 win over the Rams. 

Will all five wideouts make the game-day roster when the Patriots host the Divisional Round of the playoffs on Jan. 14? That remains to be seen. In all likelihood, how the Patriots use their wideouts will depend on matchups and the overall health of all five players.

It would be possible that all five would dress, however. They each bring individual skill sets to the table, and in the case of Amendola and Edelman, there is some special-teams value within the position group as well. Activating all five may mean that multiple corners -- perhaps both Justin Coleman and Cyrus Jones -- or a back-up/special-teams contributor like Matt Lengel or Geneo Grissom may be forced out of the lineup in order to accomodate all five receivers. 

Tom Brady returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out of Wednesday's on-the-field work. Cyrus Jones, who has been dealing with a knee issue since last week, and Alan Branch were not spotted during the media-availability portion of the session.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona. 

Gronkowski doesn't think Goodell can visit Gillette: 'The fans are nuts'

Gronkowski doesn't think Goodell can visit Gillette: 'The fans are nuts'

At this point, there may be no getting out of it.

Roger Goodell chose to visit Atlanta twice in as many weeks during its run to a Super Bowl, and in the process he opted not to check in at Gillette Stadium for either the Divisional Round or the AFC title game. But once the Patriots won Super Bowl LI, many felt as though Goodell would simply have no choice but to attend the 2017 regular-season opener in Foxboro. 

There are those who are itching to have him visit. There are those who hope he stays away. In an interview with ESPN, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't put himself in either camp, but he seemed to suggest that it might not be the best idea for the commissioner to show his face in New England.

"To tell you the truth, I really don’t think so," Gronkowski said when asked if Goodell could come back to Foxboro any time soon. "The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what. They have Tom’s back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."

Goodell hasn't been to Gillette Stadium since Deflategate, but he said during Super Bowl week that he'd be happy to visit if he was invited.