Running back Rex Burkhead back at Patriots practice

Rex Burkhead

Rex Burkhead participated in his first practice since being placed on injured reserve with a neck injury on September 26. The Pats now have 21 days to activate the running back or place him back on the injured reserve.

The running back went on injured reserve following Week 3 with a neck injury.

Burkhead received the team's second and final designation to return from injured reserve after rookie cornerback Duke Dawson returned to practice weeks ago.

Due to a new National Football League rule, players returning from injured reserve must miss eight games - not eight weeks - before returning to a game.

With rookie Sony Michel close to return this week, the Patriots' offense and their running back position looks like it will be bolstered over the final stretch of the regular season.

The Patriots now have used both of their allotted IR-return spots. Any other players currently on the list or who might be placed on it from now until season's end will be done for the year with no opportunity to play again until 2019.

Past year the Patriots brought Malcolm Mitchell back to practice after he too was placed on the injured reserve, but subsequently returned to the IR.

New England can not activate any additional players off IR this season, officially ruling linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, running back Jeremy Hill and cornerback Eric Rowe out until 2019.

Trent Brown was the only absence on Thursday at practice.

Offensive tackle Cole Croston was back on the field.

Of course, just because these two players are practicing now doesn't necessarily mean they'll be re-activated to the 53-man roster, but it is an encouraging sign.

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