Albert Haynesworth back in pads

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One day after pleading no contest to a charge of simple assault Monday in Washington, Patriots defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth was back in New England on Tuesday and engaged in his first full-pads practice in nearly three weeks.

Haynesworth, spotted only during non-contact walkthroughs since Aug. 4, could now potentially see his first preseason action Saturday in Detroit.

"He's a great player and I'm sure when he's healthy he'll get out there and make some plays for us," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said before Haynesworth returned for the team's afternoon practice session. "He's working hard to get back out there with the guys, and I'm sure he's in his playbook, doing what he needs to do to be prepared to play when he comes back."

With Haynesworth absent through much of training camp, the focus has been on his disappearance and the off-the-field troubles. Some even wondered if Haynesworth would even make the Patriots' roster, but the team has been unwavering in its support.

"I think Albert has been great since he's been here," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told sports radio WEEI last week. "He's worked hard. He's done more than really what we've asked him to do. He's put in a lot of extra time and a lot of extra effort to get back on the field, to study, to catch up on things from a playbook standpoint that's he a little behind on."

Back on the field and with his court date in the rearview mirror, the spotlight that follows Haynesworth's hulking 6-foot-6, 320-pound frame might finally be fixed to the gridiron. Patriots players stressed Tuesday that they don't worry about off-field issues with teammates.

"To be honest, when we come in here, it's all about football," Mayo said. "Even though we're a family, we talk all football in here."

Veteran defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, who returned to full-pads practice on Monday, added, "I don't (pay attention to the issues). I just try to worry about myself, really. I don't pay any attention to that."

Now the question is whether Haynesworth will be able to show enough during practice this week to get on the field Saturday. For maybe the only time this season, the Lions' young defensive tackle tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley could be upstaged by an opposing defensive tackle.

And while the third game tends to be the most interesting of the preseason bunch, the potential to see No. 92 on the field would certainly increase interest among Patriots supporters, who have to be pleased with the increased defensive pressure the team has produced in its first two exhibition triumphs.

Mayo stressed Tuesday that the Patriots are attempting to utilize multiple looks this season with early indications suggesting a switch to a base 4-3 defense. The idea of Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork plugging the middle of the Patriots' defensive line is a daunting prospect for the opposition.

It's also enough to make Mayo smile, as he did when discussing the defensive potential on Tuesday. Last week against Tampa, he spearheaded New England's pass rush, recording two sacks in a 31-14 triumph.

"They've played excellent during the whole training camp," Mayo said of the defensive linemen. "It's very important for all of the linebackers for those guys to eat up a lot of those blockers and allow us to roam around."

While Haynesworth's lackluster tenure in Washington ended bitterly, he's proven over his career that he's more than capable of being a force up front. Sprinkle in additions like Ellis and Andre Carter and there's a lot of intrigue around New England's revamped front seven.

"We have a lot of guys that are playmakers, they are good at what they do, we just have to jell together, and we'll see what happens," Ellis said.

With both Ellis and Haynesworth on the field this week, that process might have finally begun for New England.

Haynesworth pleaded no contest to a charge of simple assault on Monday to resolve a case in which he was accused of touching a waitress' breasts while having drinks with friends at a Washington hotel. If Haynesworth stays out of trouble over the next 18 months and completes 160 hours of community service, prosecutors have agreed to drop the charge entirely.

Belichick avoided questions about Haynesworth on Tuesday. When asked about potential league discipline, Belichick noted, "Whatever the league does, they'll announce." Pressed on Haynesworth's no contest plea, Belichick said: "That's a personal matter, so I don't really have any comment on it."

A league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that commissioner Roger Goodell is not expected to hand down any further discipline to Haynesworth, who is not scheduled to have a status hearing until Feb. 21, long after the NFL season will have concluded.

The Patriots acquired Haynesworth in exchange for a 2013 fifth-round pick in late July. A two-time All-Pro, Haynesworth boasts 30.5 sacks over a nine-year career and could give the Patriots' defensive front a jolt if he can rekindle his play.

In other injury news, running back Danny Woodhead was in full pads for the media access portion of Tuesday's practice (stretching and light positional drills), a sign that he has been cleared by the team's medical staff. Woodhead appeared to suffer a head injury after taking a hard hit while covering a punt late in last Thursday's preseason game in Tampa.

Also returning to action in full pads was linebacker Gary Guyton, who was not in uniform for Monday's practice.

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Nate Solder was not spotted at the media access portion of Tuesday's practice. The injury status of the first-round pick is unknown.

Chris Forsberg is a columnist and reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Information from ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak contributed to this report.