Bill Belichick leaves door open on possibility of Malcolm Mitchell return

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the NFL's trade deadline Tuesday and arguably the New England Patriots' top two needs an edge defender and pass-catcher, one topical question lingers: Could second-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who is on injured reserve, potentially return and help fill one of those voids?

Bill Belichick was asked about the possibility Monday.

"We'll have to see how it goes. There's still a lot of football left," he responded. "Guys that could potentially be eligible to come back are working hard, trying to get better. They're improving, so we'll just see where all that takes us. I don't know."

Mitchell, who came through in the clutch in the second half of Super Bowl LI and has earned quarterback Tom Brady's trust quicker than most young receivers, was placed on injured reserve Sept. 7 because of a knee issue. He is eligible to begin practicing upon his return to full health.

On Friday, Mitchell was in the locker room during the media-access period, which was one of the first times (if not the first time) that has happened since he landed on IR. He recently started running again.

NFL teams can have up to two players return from injured reserve during the season. Linebacker Shea McClellin is on track to be the first to do so for the Patriots, as he began practicing two weeks ago and is eligible to join the roster in advance of the next game, Nov. 12 in Denver.

As long as McClellin doesn't have any setbacks, it would leave the second and final return spot to either Mitchell or defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (knee). Both Mitchell and Valentine could potentially return to practice, but only one could ultimately be activated to the roster.

Mitchell, a 2016 fourth-round pick from Georgia, finished with 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season last year. He added seven catches for 75 yards in the playoffs.