Mankins, Hightower present at practice; five missing

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Mankins, Hightower present at practice; five missing

FOXBORO -- The Patriots held a shorts and shells session behind Gillette Stadium Wednesday afternoon.

Dont'a Hightower, who played just nine snaps against Buffalo before leaving the game with a hamstring injury, was on the field for Week 5's first practice. Logan Mankins is also back after being inactive last weekend against the Bills.

Newly absent: Steve Gregory. The safety limped off the field in Buffalo during the fourth quarter. His injury is unknown.

Rob Gronkowski was also missing during practice's media availability. He was on last week's injury report (hip) but played 68 of 77 offensive snaps Sunday.

Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and Julian Edelman (hand) were the last two unavailable. The pair missed every practice in Week 4, as well as game day.

A few players -- Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Matthew Slater -- were wearing the pink cleats that will be featured in Sunday's tilt against Denver. Patriots will don the gear this week and the next to promote breast cancer awareness.

Defensive back Malcolm Williams wore a black jersey Wednesday, given to those who best helped New England prepare during the previous week's practices.

Patriots vs. Panthers: Five things to watch

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Patriots vs. Panthers: Five things to watch

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HOW LONG FOR TOM?

Somehow, Tom Brady’s stated desire to play this preseason devolved into discussion of whether he’s selfish, whiny and power-mad. Eh, it’s a living. How much will practice-game reps in August help him in October? I don’t know. You don’t know. But he apparently thinks they’ll help so let the guy prepare to do what you pay him a lot of money to do – play quarterback for a little while. “How little?” is the question. In my opinion, letting Jimmy Garoppolo take the first two drives then turning it over to Brady for 20 plays would give Garoppolo the chance to see the Panthers early, make adjustments after the first drive and then yield to Brady. My impression is that there’s nothing etched in stone as to who will play how long, rather, it’s something Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will let develop as they see fit.

CAN MINGO MAKE A GO

Will the Patriots unveil their brand-new Barkevious? Barkevious Mingo did reportedly make the trip to Charlotte so he’ll be on the sidelines at least soaking up some of what the Patriots do defensively. What will Mingo do defensively is a bigger question. He’s 6-4, 250 and built more like an NBA small forward than a standard edge defender. His strength lies in his burst and moving upfield, though, so giving Mingo some of Geneo Grissom’s late-game reps on the edge would give the team some early impressions on which to work.

WHICH SHIFTS DO KNIGHTON/BRANCH GET

Seeing Terrance Knighton on the field late in the fourth quarter last week against the Bears was a bit of an eye-opener. Did it signal that he is a down-the-roster player like most of the other players on the field at that juncture in the preseason? Or was he out there because the Patriots needed someone at DT and Knighton was the guy. Phil Perry contemplates Knighton’s role on the roster here. Meanwhile, Branch is just back from a week-long team suspension for undisclosed agitations. He may not be ready to go, having missed a few days of practice, but if he is I wouldn’t be stunned to see the Patriots playing him right up until the final gun as a test of his willingness to play in 2016.

SECONDARY CHALLENGES

Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn all bring something to the table which will test the Patriots secondary. Benjamin is a huge and athletic wideout that brings the size component into play; Olsen is one of the league’s faster, more surehanded tight ends and Ginn is a jet. The Patriots have let up some plays on the perimeter in each of the first two preseason games. The Bears’ first two drives last week were 10 plays and 11 plays long. Getting off the field on third down early against Carolina’s potent offense would be an encouraging sign. 

BETTER TEST FOR RUNING GAME

Last week, the Patriots ground attack showed some life against the Bears. It had been a long time coming. Tonight, the test will be much more stiff. The Panthers have the league’s best linebacker in Luke Kuechly, another outstanding one in Thomas Davis and a front that features Star Lotuleilei, Kawann Short, Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy. While the progress made against Chicago was nice, make some headway against this group and then you can really get optimistic.

 

Kraft joins four other owners on Goodell’s committee of closest advisers

Kraft joins four other owners on Goodell’s committee of closest advisers

Robert Kraft’s relationship with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was no doubt tested by the Deflategate saga, but apparently the Patriots owner is still thought of highly enough to be included in the new committee of five owners who will be among Goodell’s closest advisers.

Kraft, the New York Giants’ John Mara, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Art Rooney II, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Clark Hunt and the Houston Texans’ Bob McNair will form the committee. Those five are chairmen of the league’s various committees: Media (Kraft), Finance, Stadium, International and the Management Council Executive Committee.

The five had worked closely with Goodell on an informal basis. The NFL has now made their status official. 

More here from NBCSports.com’s Pro Football Talk.

Kraft, long one of the most powerful owners in the NFL, has been critical of Goodell’s handling of the Deflategate case, but also stood down as “one of 32” owners and accepted the league’s punishment in the case without appealing.