BOSTON (CBS) — New England’s depth at running back is actually improving.

Sony Michel is expected to play this weekend in Tennessee after missing the last two weeks with an ankle injury, and on Thursday, running back Rex Burkhead returned to practice. Burkhead has been on injured reserve since suffering a neck injury in the New England’s Week 3 loss in Detroit, and is not eligible to play until Week 13 (Dec. 2) against the Minnesota Vikings.

But with his return to the practice field, Burkhead takes New England’s second and final designated-to-return-from-injured-reserve spot on the roster (rookie corner Duke Dawson took the other a few weeks ago). That means rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and cornerback Eric Rowe (both of whom are on IR) are done for the season.

The Patriots must move Burkhead to the active roster within 21 days or he’ll return to IR. In three games this season, Burkhead has 86 rushing yards on 24 carries and three receptions for 31 yards.

Barring any setbacks for Burkhead, he’ll join Michel, James White and Kenjon Barner on New England’s stable of running backs. With Michel sidelined the last two games, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has also seen time at running back, rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle/back) limited again on Thursday, his second straight day of practice after missing last week’s win over the Green Bay Packers. It’s still unclear if he’ll play Sunday against the Titans, as the Patriots may rest him another week with their bye on the horizon. But hitting the field again on Thursday is a sign that Gronkowski is heading in the right direction.

The only player missing from the media portion of Thursday’s practice was left tackle Trent Brown, who missed Wednesday’s session with an illness.

Here’s New England’s full practice report from Thursday:

OT Trent Brown – Illness

LS Joe Cardona – Shoulder
WR Julian Edelman – Ankle
TE Rob Gronkowski – Ankle/Back
LB Dont’a Hightower – Knee
TE Jacob Hollister – Hamstring
G Shaq Mason – Calf
RB Sony Michel – Knee
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – Neck
DE John Simon – Shoulder

Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Titans clash at 1 p.m. on WBZ-TV — the home of the New England Patriots. Coverage begins Friday night at 7 p.m. with Patriots All Access and kicks off Sunday morning with Patriots GameDay at 11:30 a.m. After the game, you can catch Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s press conferences LIVE on Patriots 5th Quarter on myTV38!



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