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Aaron Hernandez will return for New England Patriots

As Rob Gronkowski exits the picture for the New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez is re-emerging.

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NFL.com's Albert Breer reported Tuesday that, barring any late setbacks, Hernandez will play Thursday against the New York Jets, per a source briefed on his condition.

Hernandez was limited in practice Tuesday, but has made progress in his recovery from an ankle injury that has cost him six of the last eight games. Hernandez was last on the field in a 29-26 win over the New York Jets in Week 7.

When healthy, Hernandez is a versatile offensive threat who can beat defenders with both his size and speed. Hernandez -- armed with a fat new contract -- was set up for a big season in Bill Belichick's offense before he suffered a nasty ankle sprain in Week 2.

Hernandez attempted to return to the lineup after a three-week layoff, but he wasn't moving well despite decent production in two games. If Hernandez returns on Thursday, he'll be coming off a 32-day layoff in game action.

The Jets' defense is a very good matchup for Hernandez if the ankle allows him to make plays with his athleticism. It remains to be seen if Hernandez is returning because he's healthy, or because the Gronk-less Patriots need him.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus.

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