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Patriots designate rookie cornerback Duke Dawson to return off injured reserve

The second-round pick will be able to play as early as week nine.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Until 2012, getting placed on the injured reserve list ended an NFL player’s season. Since then, however, the rules have changed drastically: nowadays, teams have the chance to bring up to two injured players back onto their active rosters following a minimum absence of eight weeks. Today, the New England Patriots handed out their first such designation of the year: they plan to reactivate cornerback Duke Dawson.

Dawson joined the Patriots as a second-round draft pick earlier this year. He showed plenty of promise as a slot cornerback early on during offseason workouts and training camp but in mid-August started to be limited by a hamstring injury. Due to the issue, the Florida product was able to appear in only one preseason contest and in early September was finally placed on injured reserve as a candidate to be brought back at a later point.

This point has been reached now: Dawson returned to practice earlier today and has officially been designated the Patriots’ first IR-return player of the season. Making his comeback today opens a 21-day window during which New England has to activate him to its 53-man squad. If this does not happen – as was the case with both of last year’s return players – Dawson will revert back to injured reserve and see his season come to an end.

The rookie being back impacts the team in two obvious ways. First, it means that only one return designation is left: as things stand right now, running back Rex Burkhead appears to be the most realistic candidate to be brought back further down the line. Second, New England will have to make a corresponding roster move at one point to activate Dawson. As things stand right now, placing fellow cornerback Eric Rowe on injured reserve could be it.