Pats welcome Julian Edelman back from 4-game suspension

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was in the middle of an interview with reporters Monday afternoon when wide receiver Julian Edelman approached him and whacked him on the backside.

Gilmore didn't need such a reminder that Edelman was back in the locker room for the first time after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy. He said Edelman is the type of player who stands out immediately because of his vocal presence.

"It wasn't the same without him, man. In the locker room, especially, with him talking," Gilmore said.

Edelman didn't do any talking with reporters on Monday, which was the first day he was eligible to return, but it was easy to see he was already hard at work. A large white bucket of tennis balls used to practice hand-eye coordination was next to his chair, and the sliding doors to his locker were opened wide for the first time in a month.

The Patriots didn't hold a practice Monday, just meetings, and Edelman's return was naturally noted by teammates.

"You know, he hasn't changed a bit," said quarterback Tom Brady, who is one of Edelman's closest friends. "Four weeks off, he looks good."

The Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night, which means Edelman -- who is now sporting a scruffy beard -- could be thrust back into the mix quickly alongside fellow receivers Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson and Josh Gordon.

"Everyone's excited to have him back, and any time you add great players, it's going to help what we're doing," Brady said. "We all welcome him back. He's excited, ready to go, and hopefully he can go out and play great.

"He gets open so quick, I think that's the thing about Julian, his explosiveness in the routes, in and out of breaks. It's very comforting for a quarterback to see a guy get open really early in a route. ... We've played so much football together, I really have no doubt where he's going to be at, what he's capable of. He's been a great player for our team."

Edelman arrived at Gillette Stadium shortly after 7 a.m. on Monday. Coach Bill Belichick said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI that he talked with Edelman in the morning and "we'll see how it works out" in terms of whether he plays in Thursday's game.

"This obviously isn't going to be a big week of practice or a great opportunity to practice [with a Thursday game]. So we'll have to do our best to evaluate things and make a decision obviously prior to game time," Belichick said on WEEI.

"The timing and execution of it; when you're by yourself as Julian has been, we've had other players in this situation before for a number of weeks -- four weeks in this case -- you can run around the track and do all the sit-ups you want, but it's different when you have 21 other guys on the field playing football.

"The timing, the awareness, the space, and the players that are in that space, is something you only can get used to by doing it. That's a process any player would need to go through. Julian knows that. I'm sure he'll work hard and do the best he can and we'll see where we're at."

Edelman's next-door neighbor in the locker room, special-teams captain Matthew Slater, acknowledged the boost that Edelman's return provides the team.

"He's a key cog in what we do here. He's a true Patriot and he's really unique in the person that he is and obviously the player that he is, so we're all excited to have him back," Slater said.