Today marked a positive return for a handful of important Patriots. Reports that linebacker Jerod Mayo, tight end Michael Hoomanwanui, center Bryan Stork, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, and defensive tackles Ben Bass and Jerel Worthy all made their way onto the practice field. Additionally, defensive tackle Dominique Easley started participating in contract drills, a big milestone in his recovery.
It should be noted that right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was not present and that defensive tackle Tommy Kelly showed up an hour into practice. The reason behind both is unknown, although Kelly's appearance likely implies an excused absence.
While Mayo is the only starter of the those returning, bringing back some depth players is key to both competition and long term survival.
Mayo will strengthen a linebacker unit that looks to have a set top five in Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, James Anderson, and Darius Fleming. The final roster spot for the position is up in the air (and there's still time for Fleming to falter).
Hoomanawanui's return means that tight end né offensive tackle Steve Maneri won't be the only active tight end on the field. Add in the return of Justin Jones and a healthier Rob Gronkowski and hopefully the Patriots won't have to resort to playing Nate Solder at tight end just to get by.
Stork will add to the center competition, which Dan Connolly currently leads. Stork will fight Ryan Wendell for second team snaps and will be given every chance to win the position. A healthy Stork also allows Connolly to move back to right guard, strengthening another position.
Gallon's activation means that the team can't stash him on the PUP list and that they'll actually see where he stands. While the odds of him beating out the back-end of the roster for one of the 53 are unlikely, it's always good to have additional bodies on the field; and as a seventh round pick he needs all the experience he can get.
Bass, Worthy, and Easley will help a defensive line that's missing Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga. Mike Reiss has reported that Easley dominated his three pass rushing drill attempts (against starters like Connolly and Wendell) and that he was looking "quick." If any of these players show quality ability, the Patriots historically weak interior pass rush will be a thing of the past.
Let's hope that Vollmer returns to the field soon as the Patriots continue to get healthier as camp moves forward.