FOXBORO, Mass. — Linebacker Dont’a Hightower made his triumphant return to the New England Patriots’ practice field Tuesday afternoon, signifying he’d been removed from the physically unable to perform list.
It was the first practice of the summer for Hightower, who was present throughout training camp but did not participate. He also sat out the Patriots’ first two preseason games.
Hightower worked with the defensive linemen and defensive ends during the brief portion of practice that was open to the media, hinting at where the Patriots might use him this season. New England is lean at D-end following Rob Ninkovich’s retirement and rookie Derek Rivers’ potentially season-ending knee injury.
Other returning players included defensive end Deatrich Wise, who suffered a head injury during New England’s preseason opener, and linebacker Elandon Roberts, who was carted off the field with a rib injury in Saturday night’s loss to the Houston Texans.
Wise and fellow D-end Geneo Grissom were limited, leaving the main field shortly after warmups, and Roberts and special teamer Brandon King both wore red non-contact jerseys.
Running back Rex Burkhead, who impressed against the Texans, headlined the list of players missing from Tuesday’s session. Rivers, wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Matthew Slater, tight end Matt Lengel, linebacker Shea McClellin and tackle Tony Garcia also were absent.
Mitchell appeared to suffer a knee injury when tight end James O’Shaughnessy fell on him during Saturday’s contest, but he remained in the game.
Rivers reportedly is expected to miss the season after tearing his ACL in joint practices last week, but he hasn’t yet been placed on injured reserve.
Unlike in training camp, reporters only were allowed to watch the first few minutes of preseason and regular-season practice, so it was unclear whether any other players, such as running back Mike Gillislee and tackle Nate Solder, were limited.
Gillislee and Solder, who didn’t make the trip to West Virginia last week for joint practices with the Texans, both were present in full pads and participated in early positional drills.
NFL teams aren’t required to release injury reports until Week 1.
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