FOXBOROUGH — Mac Jones took a step toward returning Wednesday when the Patriots quarterback was able to step into his throws during warmups at a walkthrough practice in the club’s field house behind Gillette Stadium.
Jones, recovering from a high left ankle sprain, took the first reps in a passing drill ahead of Bailey Zappe and newcomer Garrett Gilbert during the window when reporters were allowed to watch.
Jones, who was listed as limited, was still favoring the ankle, but his ability to move was far ahead of where it was last Friday, when he basically stood still as he took a couple of throws at practice. He was officially listed as a nonparticipant in that session.
Timelines for high ankle sprains can vary depending on the severity and how a player responds to treatment, so Jones’s increased participation is not necessarily an indication that he’s on target to start Sunday against the Lions.
Brian Hoyer, who suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the Packers as Jones’s replacement, was not at practice as he makes his way through the NFL’s protocols.
Coach Bill Belichick indicated Jones was still “making progress” in his rehab and the club will take things “day to day” but didn’t elaborate on a timeline for the returns of Jones or Hoyer.
Zappe, who put in a solid performance after replacing Hoyer, could be in line to make his first career start. The rookie said Wednesday that he’s taking things day by day, and that Jones has been “very helpful” to him.
Lions coach Dan Campbell coached Zappe at the Senior Bowl and was very impressed by the Western Kentucky product’s performance.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Campbell’s assessment of Zappe’s week in Mobile, Ala., read more like a scouting report.
“Highly intelligent. He picked up the offense very quickly. Very composed. Just had a good command of the huddle,” Campbell said. “Teammates respected him. You could tell they listened to him. And he kind of plays that way.”
Campbell also thought the Patriots built a nice on-the-fly game plan for Zappe, once he was thrust into action in Green Bay.
“I thought they did a good job with him [Sunday], just trying to get him settled in and being smart and not putting him in a bind,” said Campbell. “Continue to run the football, do things to get the ball out, and then a little play-action.
“I thought [Matt] Patricia called a good game getting him in there, and I know if he’s the guy [against us] he’ll be much more settled. That’s hard for a rookie to go in there and there you go, you’re rolling. They’ll have a good plan for him, but he’s got the FBI [football intelligence], for sure.”
Rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton returned to practice. Thornton, who arrived in a red noncontact jersey but later switched to a gray hoodie, has been out since suffering a broken collarbone in the second preseason game.
The Patriots now have a 21-day window to activate the speedster, who had a strong training camp and caught a touchdown pass in the first exhibition game against the Giants.
Patriots assistant receivers coach Ross Douglas said Thornton has been a diligent rehabber.
“One thing about Tyquan, ever since he got hurt against Carolina and he had the collarbone injury, he’s been locked in. He’s been dedicated to his rehab process,” Douglas said Tuesday. “Even though he hasn’t been able to do a lot of things physically, he’s been on top of the mental part of the game. Meeting with us early in the morning and just staying on top of his assignments.”
Douglas noted that Thornton, who turned heads with his blistering 4.28 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, has become a bit of a film buff, “watching tape from wide receivers around the league, just [to see] how he can improve his game moving forward.”
Tackle Marcus Cannon was elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. The club had an open spot after placing tackle Yodny Cajuste on injured reserve. Cannon was terrific against the Packers, playing as the jumbo and replacing Isaiah Wynn at right tackle for several series … The team signed offensive tackle Sebastian Gutierrez to fill Cannon’s practice squad spot. Gutierrez, an undrafted rookie out of Minot State (North Dakota), was most recently with the Broncos … Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, who missed the loss to the Packers because of a shoulder injury, also was spotted but was officially listed as DNP. It was noticeable and notable that Guy, who didn’t practice last week, made the trip to Green Bay and was on the sideline. It’s a testament to his leadership and teaching skills.
Tight end Jonnu Smith, who left the Packers game with a sprained ankle, also did not practice … In addition to Jones, six others were limited: receiver Jakobi Meyers (knee); Wynn (hip); cornerback Jalen Mills (hamstring); safeties Adrian Phillips (ribs) and Kyle Dugger (knee); and linebacker Raekwon McMillan (thumb) … Linebacker Jamie Collins made his debut after signing with the practice squad Monday. Collins is wearing No. 99 after wearing Nos. 91 and 58 in his previous Patriots stints.