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Bill Belichick doesn't rule out using final IR spot for a player to return

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the lingering roster-related questions for the New England Patriots is whether they will use their final injured reserve/designated-to-return spot, which Bill Belichick didn't rule out on Tuesday.

"It's still available for us, and if we feel like it was something that could help us, and there was an opportunity to use it, then we would use it," he said, when asked if it is simply too late in the season to expect it to be used. "It's still an option."

What Belichick didn't delve into, and wasn't pressed on, was if receiver Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (knee) are at a point physically where a return would be on the radar. They would be the top two candidates.

Specific to Mitchell, the free-agent signing of Kenny Britt has created a logjam of sorts at the position, as Britt joins Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Phillip Dorsett on the depth chart. Special teams captain Matthew Slater also chips in with a niche role.

But that wouldn't stop the Patriots from having Mitchell return to practice if he was medically cleared, and then the team would still have a three-week window to decide whether to activate him.

Specific to Britt, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked Tuesday what traits he has that made the team want to work with him.

"Kenny’s been productive in our league. He’s a guy who has some unique skills. He’s a big guy, he can run and catch, and has got a lot of size to him and can present some issues there -- blocking the running game, do some things in the passing game that will help us," he said.

"Now, it’s just a matter of getting him caught up. Certainly, when you come in at this point in time in the year, you’re never going to start from scratch and learn everything from the bottom up. You’ve just got to kind of move from one game plan to the next and then try to fit your role into your preparation each week, which is what Kenny’s going to do. He did a good job last week of really pushing hard to try to get that understood and learn it, and we’ll continue to work real hard with him this week to try to increase that and what he can do and what he understands about our offense and how he can help us win."

As for Valentine, who like Mitchell has been attending meetings, he could possibly add depth on the interior of the defensive line, where Alan Branch is currently sidelined with a knee injury. That led to the re-signing of veteran Ricky Jean Francois last week, and he joins starters Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown, with rookie Adam Butler also in the mix.