Prepare to be filled with hope that will ultimately lead to disappointment, Aaron Hernandez owners.

In Week 2 Hernandez suffered what was later called a “mid high-ankle sprain,” an injury that often requires at least a month-long absence. But since he’s young and his bones are infused with a herbal remedy of some kind that may or may not contain tree bark and couch grass, he’s healed quickly, fueling hope that he could return to action a little early.

The latest and greatest development came today when Hernandez was spotted on the practice field. But hold on there, Hernandez owner who just ruined expensive office equipment by spewing fresh hot java. He was quite predictably limited in his first practice back following the injury, and it’s still highly unlikely that we get a Hernandez sighting this Sunday when the Patriots host the Broncos. And indeed, that’s what Albert Breer reported earlier today, calling it a “virtual certainty” that Hernandez will be out this week.

However, Jeff Howe observed Hernandez stutter stepping and cutting on his ankle with little restriction, increasing the likelihood that he’ll return next week.

From Howe:

Hernandez was limping a bit after running his first route during positional drills and was testing his ankle when he was off to the side. He looked fine after a drill a few minutes later when he had to really stutter-step and plant his feet before turning for the ball.

Initially when the worst-case scenario of a six-week absence was floated to frantic owners, there was a possibility — albeit maybe a slim one — that we wouldn’t see Hernandez again until Week 10. That’s because if his injury was serious enough to keep him out that long, Week 8 would have been the earliest he’d be set to return. With what should be a very winnable game lined up that week against the Rams, the Patriots could have easily justified taking the cautious approach and sitting Hernandez down once more prior to their Week 9 bye, giving him an additional two weeks of rest.

But now his return seems to be coming as soon as next week, meaning Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker owners should enjoy the increase in targets while it lasts. That especially applies to Welker, who had an awful opening week (three receptions for just 14 yards) before both Hernandez and Julian Edelman went down. In the four games since he has 364 yards for a pace of 121.3 per game, although his owners are still waiting for his first touchdown after he had five over New England’s first four games last year.

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