Even though the New England Patriots will not play this weekend, courtesy of the AFC's number one playoff seed, the team returned to practice. And it was a successful one for the Patriots, who saw the return of two core players: Both running back Rex Burkhead and defensive tackle Alan Branch were back on the field today.
Burkhead missed New England's final two regular season games due to knee injury suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 15. The 27-year old has been a productive player in his first season with the Patriots, gaining 518 scrimmage yards and scoring eight touchdowns - tied for second-most on the team. However, Burkhead also struggled with injuries this year, missing a total of six games.
Branch missed the Patriots' last three games of the regular season after suffering a knee injury against the Miami Dolphins in week 14. The veteran is a key member of New England's rotation at defensive tackle and his return should help take the pressure off fellow interior linemen Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler.
While Burkhead and Branch returned to the practice fields, two members of the Patriots remain absent: Running back Mike Gillislee and defensive edge Eric Lee. Gillislee is dealing with a knee injury and missed Sunday's game against the New York Jets because of it, while Lee's ankle issue did not yet keep him out of a game.