Haynesworth (back) returns to Patriots practice

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Haynesworth (back) returns to Patriots practice

By Phil Perry
CSNNE.com

When Albert Haynesworth missed Sunday's game against the Bills with a back injury, he did a lot for those who disagreed with the Patriots' move to sign the oft out-of-shape defensive lineman this offseason.

Haynesworth did something to silence critics for now by returning to practice Wednesday.

Earlier in the day the Patriots announced the signing of Gerard Warren, a move that bolstered their defensive line before taking on running back Darren McFadden and the Raiders this week. The Warren signing would be especially helpful if Haynesworth's back acts up again and he misses more time.

Not at the media portion of practice on Wednesday were Logan Mankins (illness), tight end Aaron Hernandez (knee), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back), and defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion).

Safety Patrick Chung (thumb) and cornerback Ras-I Dowling (hip), both of whom missed the Bills game, were limited participants Wednesday.

Other limited participants were Kyle Arrington (chest), Leigh Bodden (groin), Shaun Ellis (knee), Gary Guyton (hamstring), Jerod Mayo (thigh), Zoltan Mesko (knee), Taylor Price (hamstring), Ryan Wendell (calf). Josh Barrett (thumb) and Dane Fletcher (thumb) were both full participants.

For the Raiders, McFadden (groin, shoulder) practiced fully. Quarterback Jason Campbell (foot) and wide receiver Jacoby Ford (hamstring) were limited participants. Wide receiver Louis Murphy (groin), linebacker Ricky Brown (concussion), cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring), running back Marcel Reece (ankle) and defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder) did not practice.

PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

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PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

He may have been left off of the NFL Network's Top 100 list, but Jamie Collins isn't flying under the radar at Pro Football Focus.

On PFF's list of the top 10 defensive players in the AFC, the Patriots linebacker came in at No. 8 and was given the description as the top linebacker in the conference.

Collins' versatility within the confines of the Patriots defense is what makes him so valuable, PFF's John Kosko explains: 

"He doesn’t dominate in any one role like Luke Kuechly does in pass coverage and run defense, but he is very good at all facets of the game. Collins has the athleticism to cover TEs and HBs effectively, the explosiveness to rush the passer, and the size and strength to defend the run. 

"The former Southern Mississippi linebacker is arguably the most versatile player in the NFL, and allows Bill Belichick to employ a defense that confuses opposing quarterbacks. With the only knock against Collins being his 34 missed tackles the past two seasons, the Patriot is the best linebacker in the AFC."

Collins graded out as the No. 5 linebacker in football last year, per PFF's numbers. He ranked behind only Carolina's Luke Kuechly, Minnesota's Anthony Barr, Indianapolis' Jerrell Freeman and Seattle's KJ Wright. 

Fellow Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower earned the 10th-highest grade for linebackers last season, according to PFF -- a grade that likely would have been higher had his snap-count (602 in 2015) approached that of Collins (792).

While Collins is a rare physical talent, the argument could be made that it's Hightower who is the more important player to the Patriots defense given his prowess as a pass-rusher and run-defender. He also has myriad responsibilities as the extension of the team's coaching staff in the defensive huddle. 

In order to slow down opposing passing games, many Patriots defensive packages employ either five or six defensive backs and just two linebackers. Lucky for them, they have two of the best in the conference.

Both Collins and Hightower are entering contract years this year, and finding a way to keep them in-house figures to be near the top of the list of priorities for the Patriots front office.