NASHVILLE — Isaiah Wynn has spent much of the preseason on the sidelines. The former first-round pick has been out at practice every day, but when it comes time to start hitting, he's usually had to watch Dan Skipper line up at left tackle to take the first-team reps that should be his.
But over the past week or so, the training wheels have started to come off, and on Wednesday the former University of Georgia standout reached a major milestone in his recovery. For the first time since rupturing his Achilles in the preseason last year, Wynn lined up in live action against another team and played with no inhibitions.
Wynn rotated in on most of the team's live drills during Wednesday's joint practice with the Tennessee Titans, usually taking the first rep of a given series before subbing out for Skipper. While he's still not a full participant, he's no longer appears limited in terms of what he can and can't do during practice. Case in point, during one of his reps he took the full brunt of a bull rush and was nearly taken to the ground.
Nearly, he insisted.
"I try to stay off the ground," he said, laughing. "I wouldn't call it taken to the ground, but to be able to hit someone else is good."
Wynn first started taking part in 11 on 11 drills this Monday at Gillette Stadium, a hugely encouraging sign for a Patriots team that is counting on him to line up as the starting left tackle this fall. While Wynn has kept himself busy during his recovery, regularly taking part in meetings and observing the team's drills, nothing can compare to going into the trenches and doing the work yourself.
Getting a chance to do it in a joint practice setting, he said, was particularly helpful.
"You get an opportunity to go against guys who you see on film, but I've never been against these guys," Wynn said. "So instead of going against the same guys every day in practice you're seeing new defenses, new defensive linemen, new linebackers, and everybody plays different. So being able to see that aspect is great."
While Wynn wouldn't say whether or not he'll play on Saturday — "that's a Coach Bill question," he said — he did say he's prepared for whatever role he's given, including the starting left tackle job if that's what the coaches desire.
"Would I be prepared? Yeah I've been working out here every day to get prepared," Wynn said. "Whatever they need me I'm here for, I'm working every day to do that."
1. Walking wounded: The Patriots were painfully thin at both wide receiver and tight end on Wednesday. For the tight ends, Matt LaCosse and Stephen Anderson were both absent, and Lance Kendricks was present in a red non-contact jersey, leaving only Ben Watson, Ryan Izzo, Eric Saubert and an unknown newcomer wearing No. 41 as full participants. As for the receivers, Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris both left practice early, and N'Keal Harry, Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Cam Meredith all remain sidelined due to injury. That left Jakobi Meyers as the only regular first teamer available, resulting in Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson and Dontrelle Inman receiving substantially more snaps than usual.
2. Having their backs: Given New England's lack of bodies among pass catchers, the Patriots also leaned more heavily on their running backs. The team's five top running backs combined for 32 touches, led by James White with nine (two carries, seven catches). Sony Michel and Brandon Bolden each had six carries and a catch each, Damien Harris had four carries and Rex Burkhead had a carry and four catches.
3. Defensive domination: After spending most of camp dominating the Patriots offense in practice, the New England defense went out on Wednesday and put the clamps on the Titans too. JC Jackson had two interceptions, including one sure pick-six, and Chase Winovich got in on the action with a pick of his own.
4. Brady still Brady: Tom Brady had another strong day of practice despite the limited weapons. He went 13 for 17 in 11 on 11 drills and 4 for 7 in a 7 on 7 session, and also enjoyed some old fashioned banter with Titans head coach and former teammate Mike Vrabel.
Brian Hoyer was 6 for 8 and Jarrett Stidham had a tough day, going 5 for 10 with a fumbled snap.
5. Quotable Dion: Former Patriots running back Dion Lewis spoke to reporters after practice, where he discussed his time with New England and how he's over the bitterness that stemmed from the team's decision not to re-sign him. Though he said he doesn't regret the explosive comments he made after the Titans' 34-10 win over the Patriots last November, he's still close with many of his old teammates, and what he just said is just a part of who he is.
"Oh no the chip's still there, it's got to be there. That's just who I am, that's how I play," Lewis said. "I've got to come out here fiery, talk trash, that's just who I am. I have fun and work hard, that's who I am and that's who I'm going to continue to be until they don't allow me to come out here and play football anymore."
6. Hometown hero: The most popular player after practice was without question Shaq Mason. The Patriots guard, who hails from Columbia, Tennessee a short drive from Nashville, was the last player off the field after spending more than a half hour greeting friends and family who came to watch him play.
"It was cool to see everybody, just being back in my home state doing what I love," Mason said. "It's a blessing that I have the support that I have, and it's good to be back."
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.