FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Julian Edelman has made peace with the fact he won’t be playing football for the first four weeks of the regular season.

It won’t stop the veteran Patriots receiver from preparing like he will be on the field.

Edelman made several rounds of apologies to his team and fans following the four-game suspension handed down by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancers. Now he says he plans to use what’s left of training camp to make sure his surgically repaired knee will be ready when he is able to return. The 32-year-old receiver missed the entire 2017 season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.

Working his way back has been a slow process that’s just beginning to pick up.

“It’s been a grind,” Edelman said Friday. “You’re compounding day after day after day after day. … You’re always trying to go out and get better and I have to do a lot better. I feel like I got to get my legs under me a lot more.”

Edelman will miss a home game against Houston, trips to Jacksonville and Detroit, plus a home game against Miami.

He will be eligible to return to the active roster Oct. 1, enabling him to make his 2018 debut Oct. 4 against Indianapolis.

Part of the urgency for Edelman is fueled by changes the receiving corps has undergone since the end of last season. It will certainly have a fresh look to it when the season opens thanks to Edelman’s suspension, the free agency departure of stalwart Danny Amendola and trade of Brandin Cooks to the Rams.

That is compounded even more with the uncertainty surrounding the status of Malcolm Mitchell, who has yet to participate in a full practice after spending last season on injured reserve (knee).

It’s left openings for someone to earn playing time, and the list of candidates is long.

Among those in camp looking to make the roster are Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson and Braxton Berrios. Free agent Eric Decker is also expected to sign with the team soon to compete for a spot following the release of Jordan Matthews earlier in the week.

Edelman said he is encouraged by the work so far from the group. He was particularly high on Patterson, a trade acquisition from Oakland.

“He’s a great guy to be around,” Edelman said. “He works hard, he’s very athletic, and he definitely helps push the unit, so I’m happy we got him. He’s going to contribute in a whole different other way. He’s very versatile, and just from his track record I’m glad we have him.”

Coach Bill Belichick also has been complimentary of the work Patterson has put in during camp.

“He has skills in offense and the kicking game in a number of different areas, return skills, coverage skills, blocking skills, catching skills,” Belichick said. “He’s got some experience, so he’s able to utilize that. He understands his skill set and how it matches up against different types of players.”

NOTES: Friday marked Tom Brady’s 41st birthday and the team gave him a celebration on par with the one for his 40th.

There was a balloon figure version of Brady and a giant No. 12 cake. There were also birthday cards set up outside the practice field entrance for fans to sign. Fans serenaded the 19-year veteran with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” after he took the field.

His teammates also got in on the act. Following practice, they got together to sing to the reigning MVP. And in a video posted on the team’s official Twitter account, safety Duron Harmon proclaimed Friday a national holiday called, “G.O.A.T. Day.”

Tight end Rob Gronkowski said he continues to marvel at Brady’s longevity

“It’s just unreal. It’s remarkable,” Gronkowski said. “You just learn from him and you want to get taught from him. You want to be on the same chemistry out on the field because he knows where you need to be. He knows talent around him, he knows guys around him, he’s seen talent from the last 15 (or) 20 years on.”

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