Patriots WR Nate Washington tries to take advantage of expanded workload

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Part of the trickle-down effect of New England Patriots rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell dislocating his left elbow in Thursday’s preseason opener was seen on the practice field Sunday afternoon, as veteran pass-catcher Nate Washington was elevated into a larger role.

Washington had his most active practice of training camp, beating cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler on receptions in the deep part of the field. The plays showed how Washington, who turns 33 on Aug. 28, still runs well and can create separation.

“It felt good, my reps are picking up a little bit. I’m just getting back in the sync of things being on the field a little more, but it’s a process,” Washington said afterward, adding that he’s been focused on communication.

As the 11-on-11 portion of practice began, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Washington was joined by receiver Chris Hogan and tight end Rob Gronkowski as the Patriots worked on some two-back personnel groupings. While he had some success down the field, Washington also ran a lap for a false start, and appeared to have a miscommunication with quarterback Tom Brady on a play up the right sideline.

The workload was a big jump for him after what unfolded in training camp, with Washington practicing on the first day (July 28) and vomiting on the field, which led to an extended absence. In Thursday’s preseason opener, he played only 15 snaps and wasn’t targeted.

Washington still might be a longer shot for a roster spot at a position where Julian Edelman, Hogan, Danny Amendola and Mitchell are considered roster locks. He’s part of a group vying for a fifth (and possibly sixth) roster spot that includes Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien.

With Washington’s increased repetitions as a springboard, let’s take a closer look at what we saw (and heard) from Sunday's practice, which was held in shorts and light shoulder pads:

Ninkovich sighting, but no Sheard: In a bit of a surprise, veteran defensive end Rob Ninkovich was present at the start of practice before retreating to the lower field for conditioning work. Ninkovich tore his triceps muscle on Aug. 9. But while Ninkovich was back on the field, fellow starting defensive end Jabaal Sheard was not present for the practice. Sheard had received some attention on the sideline during Thursday’s preseason opener, but played 23 snaps and finished with two tackles and a forced fumble. With both players not practicing, it created an opportunity for Trey Flowers to take some top reps.

What's on the set list? A three-song set list during warmups:

  • “Work Hard, Play Hard,” by Wiz Khalifa

  • “Fun,” Pitbull, featuring Chris Brown

  • “Survival,” by Eminem

Step up to the mic: Quarterback Tom Brady, safety Devin McCourty and running backs Tyler Gaffney and LeGarrette Blount were among those who stopped by the interview area after practice.

Extra points: Former Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien was a guest at practice, spending time chatting with Bill and Brian Belichick during the early portion of the workout. … Thom McDaniels, father of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Bears offensive assistant Ben McDaniels, was in attendance. … Belichick said a big part of practice would be devoted to installation. … Linebacker Jonathan Freeny and Hogan shed their red, non-contact jerseys. … Guard Jonathan Cooper (foot) remains out of practice after going down on July 30. … Safety Jordan Richards had an interception of a Jimmy Garoppolo overthrow. … Brady sailed a few passes as his trademark accuracy wasn’t on display throughout the practice. … After both made plays on the ball in the preseason opener, undrafted cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc received some increased repetitions. … Top draft pick Cyrus Jones muffed a punt, which has been a struggle for him at times in camp. ... Tight end Rob Gronkowski dropped a pass over the middle, as he's also had some trouble in that area in camp.

Monday's schedule: Bill Belichick news conference (1 p.m.); Patriots-Bears joint practice (1:30 p.m.)