Aaaand, they're back.
When the Patriots returned to their practice field Tuesday, a number of previously wounded players were back in uniform and taking part. Most notably, linebacker Dont'a Hightower donned his blue No. 54 jersey and full pads for the first time this summer, meaning he has been removed from the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
Hightower began the summer on PUP after minimal participation during spring practices. It's unclear exactly what caused Hightower to go on the list in the first place, although he has struggled with shoulder and knee issues throughout his NFL career.
During Monday's locker room interview period, left tackle Nate Solder made a cameo in the room, but declined to speak on the record to reporters. This is often an indication that an injured player is not yet ready to return to action. However, Solder joined Hightower on the practice field today after having been sidelined for the past few weeks with an unspecified ailment.
Afterward in the locker room, Solder briefed reporters on his status.
"They're taking great care of me," he said of the team's medical and training staff. "I'm doing whatever it takes to get ready. I'm doing everything they tell me to do to prepare myself as well as I can."
Will Solder be ready for Week 1 against Kansas City?
"I'm going to be ready to go when I'm ready to go," he chuckled in reply.
There was more good news on the injury front. Running back Mike Gillislee, who's battled a hamstring issue since the spring and taken part sparingly this training camp, and rookie ball carrier LeShun Daniels (banged up in joint practice against Houston and held out of the Texans game) also suited up fully, as did rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise. The latter suffered a concussion very early in the preseason opener against Jacksonville and hadn't played or practiced again until today.
Gillislee declared himself "100-percent" fit for service after Tuesday's session.
"I did what I had to do and was back on the field today," he added. "It feels great. I don't think I missed a step because I was studying and took visual reps each day. I was able to go out there today and fly around a little bit… I'm good now."
All the aforementioned players dressed in their regular practice jerseys, meaning they are theoretically able to practice at full speed and with full contact.
"Hopefully we'll have more joining them soon," head coach Bill Belichick remarked to reporters Tuesday afternoon. "It depends on the player, depends on the position. We try to progress him into things he can do, whatever limitations he has."
Two other injured Patriots put on full pads, but were given red (non-contact) jerseys: linebacker Elandon Roberts, who suffered a rib injury during the Texans game, and LB/DB/special teamer Brandon King (unspecified injury).
Meanwhile, rookie defensive end Keionta Davis made his first appearance with the Patriots since being inked to a deal on Aug. 11. Davis, though, did not dress fully, donning a t-shirt, shorts, and no helmet or pads for Tuesday's session. The sought-after University of Tennessee-Chattanooga product went undrafted this spring, many observers believe, due to a bulging disc in his neck. It may be that he is not entirely fit yet to take part in contact practices.
In a curious twist, running back Rex Burkhead was not on the field at the start of Tuesday's practice. A star performer Saturday night against Houston and a lengthy interview subject on Monday, Burkhead did not appear to be dealing with any obvious medical problem that would have precluded him from practicing.
There was also no sign of wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who appeared to aggravate his right knee in the second half of the Texans contest. The news is status quo for several other injured Patriots who've not seen the field recently: special teams co-captain Matthew Slater (left leg), defensive end Shea McClellin (unspecified), tight end Matt Lengel (unspecified), rookie defensive end Derek Rivers (left knee), and rookie offensive linemen Tony Garcia (unspecified) and Andrew Jelks (non-football injury list).
The Patriots depart for Detroit Wednesday after a full day's work here in Foxborough. Their original plan was to hold a joint walkthrough with the Lions on Thursday, but that engagement has now been scrapped due to a technicality.
"We were trying to make it work," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell explained to Michigan Live, "where there was a situation where we could get it just like we do on our Saturday morning walk-throughs, but the classification of it once it becomes a 'joint practice' is totally different. That was more of the issue than anything else."
"I'm 100-percent with Jim," said Belichick.