Dont'a Hightower back in practice with PUP designation lifted

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower was removed from the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday, as the club's urgency is rising with the Sept. 7 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs closing in quickly.

Hightower's availability for the opener was never considered in real jeopardy, with this week seen as a key marker for his return.

Hightower, a defensive captain, had been wearing a brace over his right knee during the start of training camp as he worked off to the side with other players rehabilitating from injuries.

The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Hightower, one of the NFL's hardest-hitting linebackers, re-signed with the Patriots this offseason after visiting with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets. His signed a four-year deal that included $19 million in bonuses and guarantees, which reflected his standing as a top player.

Hightower's return to practice coincided with the return of starting left tackle Nate Solder, who has been sidelined the past two weeks with an undisclosed injury. In addition, running back Mike Gillislee, who has missed the first two preseason games with a hamstring injury, was present for the start of practice, as were rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise (concussion) and reserve offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (concussion).

Linebacker Elandon Roberts, who injured his ribs in Saturday's preseason loss to the Houston Texans, was present in a red, noncontact jersey.

Special-teams captain Matthew Slater, linebacker Shea McClellin, offensive tackle Tony Garcia and tight end Matt Lengel remain out.