FOXBOROUGH >> With roster locks Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on the mend and several other New England receivers unavailable, the absences have created opportunities for others.
Edelman broke his left foot in Week 9 last season, missing the rest of the regular season before returning for two playoff games and undergoing a minor cleanup procedure in the offseason. He was activated from the physically unable to perform list Sunday but did not participate in the intrasquad scrimmage workout. Amendola underwent a procedure on his left knee in the offseason and had bone spurs removed from his ankle and remains on the PUP list.
"I'm like day to day right now, so I'm a day better than yesterday," Edelman said after the workout. "It's good to get out here and run around with the pads and adjust to catching a ball with the shoulder pads and the helmet and the facemask. Going out there and trying to get tired, as tired as possible with the pads on, so you can get used to games and stuff."
Chris Hogan suffered an early injury in camp and Nate Washington has been limited after missing several days early in camp with an illness. Keshawn Martin also has missed several days.
The absences have opened chances for Aaron Dobson, DeAndre Carter and Chris Harper to step up. Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien also are vying for the fifth receiver spot.
Dobson is entering his fourth season but has been limited to just 24 games in his career because of injuries. Head coach Bill Belichick likes what he has seen so far.
"Aaron's had a good spring and a good few days here at training camp," Belichick said. "I think we've seen that from him before. I'd say Aaron's just, for whatever reason, hasn't been able to consistently be on the field and do it. When he's been out there he's looked good a lot, but he hasn't always been out there for one reason or another. So, hopefully — I know he's training hard, looks like he's in good condition this year — hopefully he'll be able to stay on the field and continue to improve. I think that's really the key. It's not just being healthy, but being healthy to practice and improve. Aaron's worked hard, he's made some good catches. So hopefully he keeps climbing in that direction."
Harper appeared in five games for the Patriots last season.
"(He) had a lot of ground to make up and he has come a long way," Belichick said. "He had a real good spring and he's built on that here in training camp. (He) shows good quickness, he's caught the ball well. He's doing well but he has come a long way. He has probably made as much progress as any player has in the last calendar year, maybe a little more than that going back to last spring, but yeah, he has come a long way."
"It means a lot, definitely coming from a coach of his caliber," Harper said, of hearing Belichick's comments. "Just hearing the kind words that he said, it makes me definitely want to work hard to continue to get those praises."
He's not the only receiver who has caught the coach's eye. For the 5-feet-8, 190-pound Carter, Belichick invoked the name of a Patriots' great.
"He runs pretty well. He's kind of got a Troy Brown-type of build, but I think he's got enough speed to be competitive on the perimeter," Belichick said.
Carter appreciated the comparison.
"It's a great, great honor to be put in that category. Troy's a great player. I had a chance to talk with him and work with him a little bit here in the spring at OTAs," Carter said. "(He) was a great punt returner in this league and a great receiver in this league, made a lot of great, clutch plays for the Patriots in postseason and big games. Being able to talk with him and pick his brain about how he approached the game, and we have similar builds as well, was definitely a benefit to me and something I enjoyed in the spring.