Dont'a Hightower, Malcolm Mitchell working way back to full participation

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Reporters have had access to two New England Patriots offseason practices, so let's clean out the notebook on some key items:

Dont'a Hightower, Malcolm Mitchell and Duron Harmon on rehab track. As most players worked on the two practice fields on Tuesday, Hightower, Mitchell and Harmon retreated to a lower field for rehab work. This is a clear-cut indication that they are working their way back from a medical/injury-based situation. Defensive tackle Alan Branch, who hasn't been taking part in the voluntary offseason program, joined them as well. This doesn't appear to be anything serious, but is notable that they aren't currently cleared for full participation in practice.

Jonathan Jones has great opportunity. The second-year cornerback from Auburn, who made the team in 2016 as an undrafted free agent, continues to see quality snaps in the nickel package. He is mostly playing with Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler, and showed up Tuesday with two pass breakups. Jones made his primary mark on special teams as a rookie, as he played just 64 defensive snaps in the 2016 regular season. But it looks like he has a great opportunity to increase that total this year.

Jacoby Brissett cites obvious gap between him and top 2 QBs. The second-year quarterback drew a large media crowd after practice and one of the things he discussed was where he stands relative to Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. "That's kind of obvious -- [Jimmy] has been here four years, I've been here two. Tom's been here 18. There's definitely a gap, but it's no excuse." One of the final passes of the day for Brissett was a touchdown up the right seam to tight end James O'Shaughnessy.

Andrew Hawkins: Never been a lock. Meeting reporters for the first time since signing with the Patriots, the veteran receiver explained his thought process for the decision despite the team's stocked receiving corps. "It's hard to earn a roster spot anywhere. I've never been a lock anywhere. I've always fought from the bottom," he said. "If that was going to scare me away I probably shouldn't be playing anymore. Their receivers here are incredible and I have so much respect for even being around them now, that much more respect for how talented they are. So for me personally, I continue to say it but I have so much work to do to catch up and when I'm out here try not to slow down this football team."

Florida coaches in the house. Bill Belichick welcomed members of the University of Florida coaching staff at Tuesday's practice. This is commonplace for the club to have college coaches on hand for practices in the spring, and into training camp.