Dont’a Hightower, 2 other key Patriots return to practice

New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) warms up on a bike as others stretch on the field during an NFL football team practice Wednesday, June 7, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower warms up on a bike as others stretch on the field during a June 7 practice in Foxborough. –Elise Amendola / AP, File

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was one of three key players to return to practice Tuesday as the Patriots prepared to head to Detroit for their third preseason game.

Starting left tackle Nate Solder and running back Mike Gillislee were also back on the field after missing time with injuries.

Hightower began the preseason on the physically unable to perform list and had only participated in light conditioning work on an auxiliary field before Tuesday. Solder had been sidelined with an undisclosed injury since Aug. 3, and Gillislee has been limited the past two weeks with a hamstring injury.

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Gillislee, who signed with New England in April, has a short window to solidify his spot on the depth chart before New England’s Sept. 7 season opener against Kansas City. He was one of the players the Patriots brought in to help replace the production they got from LeGarrette Blount, who’s now with Philadelphia.

Gillislee said concern about falling behind his teammates has been on his mind.

“I think that’s with any football player that has an injury,” he said. “But I did what I had to do and I’m back on the field today.”

Gillislee is part of a deep running back group that also includes Super Bowl hero James White, Dion Lewis and fellow newcomer Rex Burkhead, who has been a surprise standout for the Patriots this preseason. Burkhead started against the Texans last week and caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady.

Gillislee said the hamstring injury dates back to when he was with Buffalo last season.

“I tried to burst at the beginning of one of those plays at the beginning of camp, and it just happened,” he said. “I got an MRI and everything was good, so I’m back … and I’m 100 percent.”

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Solder, entering his seventh season, said he’s focused on preparing as best he can with the time he has left before the regular season. He was one of the Patriots’ most durable offensive linemen, starting 15 games in 2016.

“I missed those guys and I’m looking forward to being back out there,” Solder said.

Coach Bill Belichick said it was a welcome sign to see two of his starters in Hightower and Solder as full participants in workouts again.

“It’s good to see all of the players that are out there,” Belichick said. “Hopefully, we’ll have more joining them soon.”

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at https://twitter.com/khightower