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Forget Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Malcolm Mitchell is the Patriots' biggest OTA question

The third-year man missed his second straight open practice yesterday.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Yesterday, the New England Patriots took the field for their second open practice of this year's organized team activities. Attendance was again solid but a total of nine players were still absent – seven of which also missed last week's lone session open to the media. The biggest names on that list, of course, are quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who both elected to sit out voluntary workouts so far this year.

With both being healthy and committed to playing for the Patriots in 2018, however, neither of them is that big of a question mark heading into next week's minicamp. The same cannot be said of another one of those seven players: Malcolm Mitchell. The third-year wide receiver was on the field for New England's first OTA practice on May 21 but has not been spotted ever since, raising questions about his future availability.

Mitchell, who showed plenty of promise during his 2016 rookie campaign, is coming off a year on injured reserve: The Georgia product was originally placed on the list due to an undisclosed foot injury in September, but was able to return to practice in late December. However, an apparent setback halted any plans the team have had for him to get activated to the active roster and Mitchell reverted back to injured reserve.

After the Super Bowl, the 24-year old acknowledged that the upcoming offseason would therefore be an important one for his development. “This offseason will be big,” he told ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss in February. “Obviously I missed all of last season and I won’t shy away from the importance of making sure I’m ready when we start OTAs.” Mitchell apparently was ready for the start of OTAs – but was nowhere to be found the very next day.

Is it time to push the panic button? Not necessarily, even though Mitchell being a no-show is not the most encouraging look considering how his 2017 season went. But there are simply too many things we do not know yet – from his presence at other practice sessions to the reason for his absence. But questions nevertheless remain; questions that might get answered once minicamp opens next Tuesday.

If that is not the case, though, and Mitchell remains absent during the mandatory sessions, those questions will only get louder.