Around noontime today, QB Tom Brady released a seventh and (presumably final) installment of his Facebook video series. In the epilogue episode, Brady reiterates that he is aiming to play until age 45, if he can sustain his desired high performance level.
"I can't imagine anyone playing half as long as he has at the level that he has," teammate Dont'a Hightower reacted later in the day. "Forty-five, man… I don't doubt it at all, but dang, that's a long time."
For the veteran linebacker, the past year has probably felt like a longer time than that as he's recovered from a pectoral muscle injury that cut short his 2017 season. A variety of injuries, particularly knee and shoulder-area issues, have plagued Hightower throughout this professional career, which began in 2012 as one of two first-round Patriots draft picks.
"This year was a little awkward. I missed a lot of time last year," he acknowledged. "I've been back, rehabbing, been on the field a lot more and a lot longer. This offseason feels good. Looking forward to that first game and building on that."
Hightower revealed that he's been trying new methods of rehabilitation in an effort to stay healthier and remain on the field longer in the coming season.
"Yeah, the biggest thing was, I tried to hit those small muscles that I don't always hit, treat those more in a different rehab routine, more acupuncture and soft tissue [treatments] that I've been educated on since the injury. I feel good now and am going to continue on that throughout the year. Hopefully it'll help me.
"Within those first couple of days of training camp, psychologically getting that comfort back, I felt good," he added. "I've been running with that and staying on top of this rehab. So, it's been keeping me busy, but I'm going to do what I can to stay on the field."
According to Hightower, he wasn't limited at all this summer due to his health and is anxious to set foot once again on a game field with his teammates, starting this Sunday at home versus the Houston Texans.
"Absolutely. Beginning the season at home, it doesn't get any better than that, especially when you have fans like we do, who are just as excited – or more – than we are for football to be back.
"I think everyone still gets those [opening-game] jitters," admitted Hightower, "till that first hit, then you're kind of back to normal. It's just like when you were a kid playing ball."
Rivers' 'surreal moment' coming
Technically, he's not a rookie, but Derek Rivers is expecting to play in his first NFL regular season game on Sunday. The second-year defensive end had to sit out the entirety of 2017 with a knee injury suffered in training camp.
"It was a blessing last year," Rivers insisted Wednesday, "because it gave me the opportunity to kind of just learn the defense and see how it goes in the classroom, but now, it's almost like a surreal moment… To God be the glory. It's all Him. It's a blessing and I'm excited."
Left tackle Trent Brown and long snapper Joe Cardona, the two players not seen at Tuesday's practice, reappeared in uniform Wednesday. That meant the Patriots enjoyed perfect attendance at this afternoon's workout. All 63 players – the 53 on the active roster and 10 on the practice squad – were able to take part at least on a limited basis.
Brown is believed to have missed the past couple of practices for non-health reasons.
"I came back and feel like I didn't miss a beat," he told reporters after practice, adding that he's anxious to make his regular season Patriots debut this Sunday versus Houston.
"For sure, I'm always excited for Week 1, to get the real season going. I feel good."
Check out our favorite practice and locker room photos from the first week of the regular season.