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Cassel returns, Wilfork 'a lot better'; Thu. notes

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Matt Casselwas back with his teammates on the practice field Thursday.

He missed the previous day's session to be with his family and make arrangements for the funeral of his father, Greg, who died Monday in San Bernardino, Calif. According to today's Boston Globe, Cassel's father will be laid to rest this coming Monday.

During the team stretching period, head coach Bill Belichickwent over to talk with his quarterback, but the exchange was out of earshot of the media who were present. Belichick appeared to do most of the talking, however, with Cassel appearing to nod his head in agreement from time to time. He then joined his fellow QBs in passing drills when practice commenced.

Cassel did not speak to the media, nor is he expected to before Sunday's game against Oakland, according to the Patriots media relations department. We still don't know for certain if Cassel will play, but today's developments appear to be a step in that direction.

His teammates were clearly happy to have Cassel back with them, and continued to offer words of support as the QB goes through this difficult week.

"I sent him a text and just told him I'm sorry to hear about his loss … I've been through a similar situation," said nose tackle Vince Wilfork, whose own father died from complications related to his diabetes not long ago.

"I basically left him alone. I told him I'm here if you need me. I know what you're going through ... if you need to cry or whatever, get something off your chest, however he wants to express himself. Some people [on the team] handled it differently, but he knows that he's got a bunch of guys that are there for him with open arms."

As for his own health situation, Wilfork was even more positive. Proclaiming that he felt "better ... a lot better," Wilfork said that he intends to suit up for Sunday's game in Oakland. He left the Seattle game in the first quarter last weekend with a shoulder injury and never returned to action.

"Oh, yeah ... oh, yeah ... no question. I'm ready for Sunday," he said. "I wanted to play [the rest of the Seahawks game], but I just couldn't. I couldn't move my arm at all. I'm not going to put myself and my team in a situation where I'm basically useless out there on the field. [Last] Sunday, I was … but now, it's a lot better."

Wilfork revealed that the pain was intense when he first suffered the injury, but that it has since subsided. He's still sore, he admitted, but in the heat of a playoff chase, he wants to be out there with his teammates.

"I'm very fortunate that it wasn't anything major. I'm ready to grind it out. I'm looking forward to grinding it out. I love the game. If I can run and use my hands, I can play this game. I can do that [now]. I don't know how well I can … I'll find out on Sunday. I felt good practicing yesterday, so, hoping to get better over time. Couple days to go … just have to be smart."

THURSDAY NOTEBOOK

Mayo learning from senior Seau

Rookie linebacker Jerod Mayois thrilled to have fellow 'backer **Junior Seau *back on the team, telling reporters that he's already learning a lot from the 19-year veteran. In particular, Seau's trademark intensity is starting to rub off on Mayo.

"Yeah, yeah … the intensity of his pre-game speeches, the intensity on the practice field. I'm trying to take as much as I can from him while he's here."

In the Patriots' suddenly injury-plagued linebacker corps, Mayo has been a steady force all season. A reporter pointed out that he's now among the more experienced players on the roster at his position, at least from a total number of snaps standpoint.

"To be honest, I'm still out there, just trying to find my way around," he insisted. "My athleticism is still helping me along the way. I feel like I'm picking it up a little bit, but at the same time, I'm not where I want to be yet.

"Coach said there's no rookies out here anymore, but I still feel like a rookie," he laughed. "It's crazy, but those guys have a lot more years than I do. But it's a challenge I'm willing to take on."

And forget about a rookie wall for Mayo. He said he feels great at this point in the season and is looking forward to the home stretch.

"Coach told us every game is a playoff game from here on out, and that's how we have to approach it … it's a new game plan every week, so, it stays interesting."

Practice Update

There were a few more clouds in the sky, but the temperatures were slightly warmer as the Patriots returned to San Jose State University for another day of practice. Players dressed in helmets, shoulder pads, and sweatpants.

With the return of Cassel, only three players were missing from action – the same three from yesterday: safety James Sandersand linebackers Tedy Bruschi and *Pierre Woods.

As Wilfork was finishing up his interview with the media just minutes before the start of practice, his teammate on the D-line, Ty Warren, ran by, tugged at the back of Wilfork's jersey, and announced to the gathering, "Sorry guys, he's gotta go." Wilfork looked over and saw Warren grinning, so he turned back to the media and said, "Ladies and gentlemen … Ty Warren." With that, the duo laughed as they ran off to practice.

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