BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots will kick off training camp with two key defensive players on the shelf. Linebacker/defensive captain Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackle Alan Branch are both expected to begin camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Hightower missed voluntary spring workouts with an undisclosed ailment. Branch didn’t attend spring workouts, but Patriots coaches kept him off the practice field during June’s mandatory minicamp. Both Hightower and Branch worked with a separate group on a different field during that time.
Either Hightower or Branch can be removed from the PUP list at any time during training camp, but cannot be placed back on it once that happens. The Jets and Steelers reportedly balked at their free-agent offers to Hightower amid injury concerns; the linebacker has missed 11 games in the past three seasons due to various ailments.
Hightower and Branch combined to make the biggest defensive play of Super Bowl LI in the fourth quarter, when Hightower forced a fumble on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan that Branch recovered. Both signed extensions with the Patriots in the offseason; Hightower returned on a four-year deal worth a base of $35.5 million, while Branch signed a two-year deal that includes $3 million guaranteed.
Training camp officially begins for the Patriots on Thursday. Rookies (and Tom Brady) reported on Monday, while the rest of the veterans will report on Wednesday.