FOXBORO -- Earlier this week, the Patriots assigned No. 54 to rookie Dont'a Hightower, a number that had previously belonged to holdout Brian Waters. On Friday, there was yet another indication that the Pro Bowl right guard may not be returning to New England even though he is signed through this season. 

The Patriots removed the nameplate from his locker, leaving it blank. The only items in his locker are his shoulder pads and his team sweats, which still bear his old number on the front. 

FOXBORO -- Shane Vereen again was the only Patriots player missing from practice in shorts and shells on the upper grass training fields Friday outside Gillette Stadium. 

The running back has missed practice this week with a foot injury suffered in the third preseason game at Tampa Bay on Aug. 24. 

It was very hot and humid on the field Friday, mirroring the conditions the Patriots likely will face in Nashville on Sunday in their season-opener against the Titans. Sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70s are forecast for the 1 p.m. kickoff. 

NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi, during his weekly Friday morning appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show, looked at the situation in the AFC East, where the Patriots appear to be clear favorites over the Jets, Bills and Dolphins.

While the Patriots failed to impress in the preseason, going 1-3, the Jets were worse, scoring just 31 points and going 0-4. The Bills and Dolphins also lost all four of their preseason games. While preseason records don't mean much, there are signs that the rest of the division has issues.

Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez made the first of his weekly appearances on WEEI sister station WAAF Friday morning on The Hill-Man Morning Show.

Although the Patriots went just 1-3 in the preseason and didn't impress much on offense, Hernandez said he isn't concerned heading into Sunday's regular-season opener against the Titans.

"I definitely feel confident," he said. "In the preseason they do a lot of the basics. You never really do much of the offense and stuff like that. So, I feel like we're definitely ready for the season."

FOXBORO -- Predictions in the NFL come a dime a dozen.

It’s why Vegas loves the NFL. As mentioned here last week, the Patriots are 11-2 to raise the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 2 in New Orleans.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports early on in camp predicted the Patriots would go 16-0 for the second time in six seasons.



FOXBORO -- Shane Vereen (left foot) was the only player who did not participate at Patriots practice on Thursday, according to the team's official injury report. 

Offensive linemen Nick McDonald (shoulder) returned and was limited at practice. Tight end Daniel Fells, cornerback Sterling Moore (knee) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) were also limited, while safety Pat Chung (shoulder) was listed as having full participation in the workout on the grass fields in shorts and shells.


FOXBORO -- The Patriots have announced their captains for the 2012 season, the same group from last year. On offense, it's quarterback Tom Brady and offensive lineman Logan Mankins. On defense, linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive back Devin McCourty and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. On special teams, Matthew Slater.

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FOXBORO -- Shane Vereen was the only player missing from Thursday's Patriots practice on the grass fields outside Gillette Stadium. Vereen is nursing a foot injury suffered on Aug. 24 at Tampa Bay. After practicing in full pads Wednesday, the team held its practice in shorts and shells on Thursday. 

Offensive lineman Nick McDonald returned on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday with a shoulder injury. The team will practice once more on Friday before heading out Saturday for Nashville and the season opener on Sunday against the Titans at L.P. Field. 

FOXBORO -- Contradicting a report on Wednesday, ESPN reported Thursday that tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr. did not fail his physical with the Patriots this week. 

Wednesday's report on reported that sources said Winslow, 29, came to Foxboro for a physical but couldn't pass because of concerns over his chronically bad knees, including his right knee which has had several operations since a motorcycle accident in 2005. 


FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty remembers the moment he realized life in the NFL was a little different than the Big East.