FOXBOROUGH --- The fact that Aaron Hernandez had a travel bag sitting in front of his locker, with his shoulder pads, cleats and some gloves already packed in it, had to come as an encouraging sign the Patriots tight end was prepared not only to travel to Seattle, but also play against the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.
But concerns about his availability were raised when Hernandez, who was coming off an ankle injury suffered in the home opener Sept. 16, was not spotted during the media-access portion of Friday’s practice at Gillette Stadium.
“Well, we’ll just have to see how it goes here in practice,’’ coach Bill Belichick said before the team held its final workout and departed for Seattle.
“He came back late last week and did some things [Thursday] and Wednesday,’’ Belichick said. “So we’ll see how it is today and see if it set him back or didn’t set him back, how that went. We’ll have a day to evaluate it on Saturday, see where we’re at on Sunday, so he’ll be a game-time decision.
“We may well know sooner depending on the information we get [Friday] before we leave. We’ll just have to see how it goes.’’
Hernandez, who injured his right ankle in the home opener vs. Arizona Sept. 16, returned to practice for the first time last Thursday in a limited capacity. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who started at Buffalo but was inactive for last Sunday’s 31-21 victory over the Broncos with a concussion, returned to practice for the first time Friday, which seemed to add some depth to the injury-riddled position.
It followed the return of wide receiver Julian Edelman (hand), who did not practice Wednesday but returned for Thursday’s workout in a limited capacity.
Given the nature of Hernandez’s injury, Belichick was asked if he was encouraged to see his versatile tight end get back on the field for practice last week.
“Oh, it’s always great to see anyone get back out there,’’ Belichick said. “Any time we have player come back to practice, it’s always great – Aaron last week. It’s good to see every player get back out to practice.
“No matter what the injury is they’re coming off of, it’s good to see everybody back out there. It means they’re closer to being able to help our team and doing what we’ll need for them to do, so that’s always good.’’