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Patriots 2018 OTAs: 6 players to watch during the second week of OTA workouts

New England returns to practice this week.

NFL: New England Patriots-OTA Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

After taking Memorial Day weekend off, the New England Patriots will be back on the practice fields tomorrow to start their second week of organized team activities. Three sessions, one of which open to the media (Thursday’s), will take place over the next few days as the team continues its third phase of voluntary offseason workouts — one that will be kicked into a higher gear with early June’s mandatory minicamp.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at six players to watch this week:

WR Julian Edelman

The Patriots’ number one wideout is working his way back from an ACL tear that cost him all of the 2017 season. And if last week’s open practice is an indication, team is approaching Julian Edelman’s return slowly: While the veteran did participate in individual pass catching and punt return drills, he was held out of team work. It will be interesting to see if Edelman’s workload looks any different this week.

CB Keion Crossen

Seventh-round rookie Keion Crossen had a pretty active open workout last Tuesday: Not only did the Western Carolina product intercept a Brian Hoyer end zone pass intended for James White, he also broke up two additional attempts. If Crossen can keep up his momentum this week and prove to be a quick student of the game, he might be on his way to setting himself apart from his competition.

WR Malcolm Mitchell

As encouraging as it was to see Julian Edelman and other players coming off injured reserve on the field, third-year man Malcolm Mitchell remains somewhat of an enigma. The wideout, who missed all of 2017 due to a foot injury, was present for the first OTA practice but not nowhere to be found one day later. His number 19 jersey is one to look out for this week.

LB Dont’a Hightower

Like Malcolm Mitchell, defensive signal caller and team captain Dont’a Hightower was also not present during last week’s lone open session. He did, however, return to the field two days later and, judged by team-provided photos from the workout, looked leaner as he had in the past. Whether this is actually the case and how the team uses him during practice will be worth keeping an eye on this week. After all, Hightower is one of the Patriots’ core defenders.

DE Derek Rivers

New England’s highest selection of the 2017 draft tore his ACL last summer during his first NFL training camp. Derek Rivers was back on the practice fields last week and — with nominal number one defensive edge Trey Flowers absent — even saw significant time with the early version of the Patriots’ starting defense. His development over this year’s offseason will be crucial and therefore interesting to take a look at whenever possible.

QB Danny Etling

With Tom Brady opting to forgo the voluntary portions of offseason workouts this year, his backups — Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling — get additional practice reps. While neither looked particularly good last week, Etling was the more promising-looking passer considering how early in his NFL career he is. Will he keep it up? That’s a crucial question when it comes to his chances of making the team.