New England's Albert Haynesworth returned to practice Tuesday, one day after he pleaded no contest to a charge of simple assault.

Haynesworth was in pads and participated in drills at the beginning of the afternoon practice. The defensive lineman is one piece of the Patriots' rebuilt defense.

Haynesworth last practiced on Aug. 4, and was in pads but did not practice on Saturday. Coach Bill Belichick had been describing Haynesworth's situation as "day to day" for two weeks.

The no-contest plea Monday resolved the case in which he was accused of touching a waitress' breast while having drinks with friends at a Washington hotel. He must stay out of trouble during the next 18 months and complete 160 hours of community service.

"It helps every player to be out there in practice," Belichick said Tuesday before practice when asked about Haynesworth, calling the legal situation a "personal matter" he wouldn't comment on.

He also declined to speculate on whether the NFL might take any action against him.

"Whatever the league does, they'll announce," Belichick said.

All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo was looking forward to Haynesworth's return.

"When we come in here, it's all about football," Mayo said. "We don't even talk about it. He's a great player and I'm sure when he's healthy, he'll get out there and make some plays."

The defense — especially the completely revamped defensive line — have been strong in the Patriots' preseason wins, even without several key players.

Mayo wreaked havoc on the Tampa Bay offense in the 31-14 preseason win Thursday over Tampa Bay. He had five tackles and two sacks early in the game, setting the tone for the defense.

"We did a good job executing the game plan coach Belichick had," said Mayo, who said teams will have a hard time predicting how the Patriots will line up along the defensive front. "We're a very multiple defense. One week we may come out with pressure, the next week we may come out kicking back in coverage. You never know, and I think that's a good quality of this defense."

Mayo is expected to be one of the main beneficiaries of the revamped defensive line, freeing him to rush the passer.

"Those guys (the defensive line) have played excellent the whole training camp," he said. "Those guys eat up a lot of those blockers and allow me to move around."

Veteran defensive lineman Shaun Ellis practiced again Tuesday and should make his preseason debut Saturday against the Detroit Lions. He is also expecting big things from the defense.

"There are a lot of guys who are playmakers and are good at what they do," he said. "We just have to gel and we'll see what happens."

Second-round draft pick Ras-I Dowling of Virginia practiced for the second straight day Tuesday, bolstering a secondary already strengthened by the return of veteran Leigh Bodden. Dowling also is expected to make his preseason debut against the Lions.