New England’s Jalen Mills, expected to fill in for Stephon Gilmore at cornerback, was apparently limited in practice Thursday with an ankle injury. Rich Schultz/Associated Press

The New England Patriots are going to have to make do without All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore for at least the first six weeks of the season, before he’s eligible to come off the PUP list. Patriots defensive captain Devin McCourty didn’t sound too panicked about not having the shutdown corner.

“When Steph’s ready, and he’s healthy, he’ll be back out there. And when that time comes, we’ll figure it out,” said McCourty. “For right now, we’ve been going with the guys who have been on the field since training camp started. We’ve been doing what we have to do, and I think we’ll continue to do that.”

Between J.C. Jackson, slot corner Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade, McCourty is confident the job will get done.

“For right now, what we got out there, we feel good about,” he said, “and we just gotta go play to it.”

But that could change quickly with a possible injury to the player expected to step in for Gilmore.

Mills sat out portions of stretching at the start of Thursday’s practice, visibly hampered by his new ankle injury, Mills was one of three Patriots listed as limited on the team’s practice report Wednesday, along with wideout Nelson Agholor and backup offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste. Mills failed to finish Wednesday’s practice, according to ESPN.

Mills, 27, started at corner through preseason and training camp after being billed as a do-it-all defender when he signed in free agency. If Mills can’t play against the Dolphins, his most likely replacement is third-year corner Williams, who played just 16.8% of the defensive snaps last season and was considered a roster bubble candidate this summer. The former second-round pick took just half his defensive snaps at outside corner, occasionally deployed as a tight end specialist on passing downs. He also played in the box.

During the preseason, the Pats gave Williams greater opportunity to earn a roster spot than any other defender except released corner Michael Jackson. He did enough.

DONT’A HIGHTOWER doesn’t regret being one of the COVID-19 opt-outs last year, choosing to spend time with his wife and newborn son instead of playing football. He kept tabs on the Patriots, often communicating with the linebackers after games.

But being back this year, the 31-year-old defensive leader realizes how much he missed playing, and being in a football environment.

“It’s much different now, being back in the building, back in all the meetings, back on the practice fields,” he said. “I’m definitely enjoying it a lot more than I did last year.”

And, with the season opener on tap, the veteran linebacker, who is entering his 10th season with the team, can’t wait to hit the field against the Dolphins on Sunday. He can’t wait to start the journey with this group.

“I’m anxious, I’m excited. Obviously, just kind of like everybody else with having the year off and stuff. But that was that,” he said. “With all the work that we’ve put into it this year, (I’m) just kind of excited to go out.

Players voted in Hightower as one of the team’s five captains, with McCourty, David Andrews, James White and Matthew Slater. He was honored.

“It means a lot,” he said. “Any time you get voted by your peers … the guys you’re doing the hard work with, the sweating and the blood and stuff, so it always feels good whenever your teammates vote you in, and it’s not a coach handing it down. So it always feels good when it comes from your teammates.”

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