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Why do Hightower and Vollmer have different return timetables?

Dont’a Hightower and Sebastian Vollmer suffered similar shoulder injuries.
Dont’a Hightower and Sebastian Vollmer suffered similar shoulder injuries.Photos from AP

The Patriots have several key players missing offseason workouts as they recover from surgery. Two in particular are intriguing because they seem to have the same injury but different timetables for returning to the field.

A source close to Dont’a Hightower has said he will be out six or seven months after having surgery to repair a torn labrum right after the Super Bowl, putting his availability for training camp and the start of the regular season in question. Meanwhile, a source close to Sebastian Vollmer said he shouldn’t have a problem being ready for the start of training camp in late July despite also having surgery to repair a torn labrum this offseason.

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Why the discrepancy? David Chao, formerly the Chargers’ team doctor for 17 seasons, said the answer lies in the equipment each player wore while playing through the injuries last year.

Go back and watch the last few games of the 2014 season, and notice that Hightower is wearing a brace on his right shoulder that extends to his biceps. Chao said the brace is only needed for a significant tear that makes the shoulder unstable. The brace keeps the shoulder in the socket and allows athletes to play with the injury.

It’s similar to the brace Seahawks safety Earl Thomas wore in the Super Bowl after he tore his labrum in the NFC Championship game.

“The Patriots did a much better job hiding Dont’a Hightower’s injury, but they’re relatively similar,” Chao said.

Vollmer, meanwhile, didn’t wear a brace at the end of last season. That means he most likely played with just a labral fray, and the surgery typically involves a trim instead of a full repair.

Thomas has stated that he hopes to be ready for Week 1, and Chao said he expects Hightower to be ready by the regular season opener, as well.

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“It’s not a guarantee he’s ready for day one of training camp. It’s not a guarantee that as a precaution that he won’t pass his physical until day two of training camp or go on PUP [physically unable to perform list],” Chao said. “But I would be surprised if he weren’t suited up and ready to go Week 1. He already played through it torn, so I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play Week 1.”


This report originally appeared in Sunday Football Notes. Follow Ben Volin on Twitter @BenVolin.