The New England Patriots returned to the OTA practice field Thursday for the penultimate time before the start of the mandatory minicamp next week. It was the ninth overall team activity of the offseason, and the final session open to the media for the week.
While OTA attendance is voluntary, the Patriots have demonstrated strong attendance throughout the process.
Here are some takeaways from the practice session Thursday:
The following players were absent from practice: WR Nelson Agholor; RB Brandon Bolden; DT Byron Cowart; LB Ra’Shod Berry; K Nick Folk; CB Stephon Gilmore; DT Lawrence Guy; LB Terez Hall; RB Sony Michel; QB Cam Newton; WR Devin Smith; TE Jonnu Smith; RB James White: LT Isaiah Wynn.
LB Anfernee Jennings and rookie LB Cameron McGrone were present, but limited.
As indicated above, Dont’a Hightower was present on the practice field for the first time during the Patriots offseason program. Hightower missed the entire 2020 season, after opting out amid concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
A stalwart of the Patriots defense since he joined the team in 2012, Hightower is entering the final year of his contract. The multi-year team captain is not only the Pats’ on-field defensive signal-caller, he is also one of the most prominent leaders in New England’s locker room. His presence is expected to enhance the productivity of the Patriots front seven, which is sporting several new faces in 2021.
Per several reports by media members in attendance, Hightower looked limber and comfortable while taking reps with the first-team defense during his first practice since the 2019 season. Despite some confusion surrounding his status for the upcoming season, Hightower appears ready and willing to play in 2021.
While Cam is Away ...
Despite Cam Newton’s absence due to a hand injury, New England’s quarterback contingent still provided some noteworthy contributions Thursday.
Veteran Brian Hoyer connected on deep throws to wide receiver Isaiah Zuber and tight end Devin Asiasi. He also found wide receiver Kendrick Bourne in tight coverage near the sideline for the completion.
Jarrett Stidham added a deep shot of his own to wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson. He also completed a pass in tight coverage to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Hunter Henry Suffers a Leg Injury?
In a moment that caused some concern, new Patriots TE Hunter Henry appeared to injure his left leg during 7-on-7 drills. Henry seemed to awkwardly cross legs with safety Adrian Colbert. Henry worked with a trainer but did not return to action for the remainder of the day. He watched the rest of practice from the sideline.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport followed up on Henry’s injury early Thursday evening, indicating that it was "just a scare" and "nothing serious."
The Patriots will return to the practice field Friday for their final OTA of the spring. The session will be closed to the media.