ATLANTA ( - There is still plenty of time before Sunday and Super Bowl LIII but a potential problem crept up on the AFC champion New England Patriots on Thursday when startling linebacker Dont’a Hightower missed an 80-minute walk-through practice with an illness.

Conversely, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who was limited on Wednesday with a calf injury, was back as a full participant on Thursday and coach Bill Belichick expects Brown to be available against the Los Angeles Rams.

“If something happens [with Brown] tomorrow, that will be a different story, but I’d say he looks alright,” Belichick told PFWA pool reporter Jenny Vrentas.

As for Hightower, the Pats will keep an eye on their defensive leader.

“We’ll evaluate him tomorrow,” Belichick said.

Thursday was a laid-back session where most of the players wore sweats and no jerseys or helmets. The exception was quarterback Tom Brady and the defensive players who could have the coach-to-player communication systems.

According to Belichick, the reason for the scale back was the previous workload over the past two weeks, noting the team has gotten in five practices since topping the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime of the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots' Friday practice before the big game on Friday is expected to be a full session.

“We got a lot out of the walk-through today and were able to run more plays at a slower tempo,” Belichick said. “So that’s the advantage. Practicing (at full speed) you get better tempo, you just get fewer plays.”

-John McMullen is a national football columnist for Extra Points Media and You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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