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Low-key Mankins energizes Patriots locker room

The return of the understated Pro Bowl guard is the talk of the day at Gillette Stadium.

Maybe, when his football days are over, Logan Mankinswill go into the witness protection business. Because apparently, he's been hiding in plain sight here in New England for the past six months.

"Everyone thought I was in California," said the native Golden Stater. "I've been here since April."

At a press conference Wednesday, Mankins also revealed that he's been spending his time staying in playing shape, socializing with his teammates, and watching their games each week. But his absence from the football field and the Patriots locker room seems to have taken its toll on the 6-4, 310-pound Pro Bowler.

On Tuesday, he ended his holdout by finally signing his restricted free agent tender, which the Patriots front office reduced from $3.26 million to $1.54 million when Mankins refused to sign by the mid-June deadline. However, the 28-year-old declined to elaborate on his decision to return now, when he could have waited until Nov. 16 and still received credit toward an accrued full NFL season.

"It was just time," he told reporters. "I had my reasons for the date that I came back, but I'm not going to explain them to everyone."

Sporting a t-shirt with cut-off sleeves and the kind of Fu Manchu mustache he wore as a rookie, Mankins spent more than six minutes answering other questions from the media. Such as the condition of his emotional state upon being welcomed back into the fold by the Patriots.

"I'm happy to be back. I have a lot of friends here, a lot of guys I have a lot of respect for and love playing with, so it was good to see everyone again, and when I let a bunch of guys know the day before everyone was pretty happy I was coming back, so I knew I had a lot of support here.

"Oh, yeah – anxious, nervous ... a little bit of everything," he added, when asked about returning to practice full-time. "I haven't done it in a while and everyone else has been doing it for a few months so I'm sure I'm behind and I have a long ways to go to catch up."

During his extended offseason, Mankins made a very public stink about not receiving the type of mega-contract he felt he deserved from the Patriots. He decided to try to force the issue by remaining away from the team for offseason workouts, training camp, and the first seven games of the regular season.

By returning now, he is eligible to play in the Patriots final nine games, but the team was granted a two-game roster exemption for him. That means they can have him be the 54th player on their 53-man roster, if they so choose, before releasing another player to fit him under the limit.

After this season, Mankins and the Patriots may face another potential crossroads. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement on a long-term contract extension before then, Mankins could become an unrestricted free agent … unless New England applies either the franchise or transition tags on him.

Given the fractious nature of their previous negotiations, it will be interesting to see how Mankins handles his business on and off the field going forward – whether he simply plays out the string and seeks his fortune elsewhere, or attempts to mend fences fully with the organization that selected him in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

He did appear to sound a slightly remorseful tone during his press conference when asked about the way his situation was handled earlier this year.

"I've talked to everyone here and we're all on the same page right now, so I don't see that there should be any problems right now. Maybe down the road I'll look back and wish I didn't [hold out] or maybe I'll be happy I did. I don't know. We'll find out, though," he said with his trademark grin.

For the time being, though, Mankins is part of the mix on this Patriots team, which is heading toward possibly its toughest stretch of games on the 2010 slate, with three of the next four games on the road and rematches with all three AFC East opponents in the final month of the year. His decision to come back now was greeted with universal praise throughout the Patriots locker room.

"It's great. It's great. He's such a great guy," QB Tom Bradygushed. "He's a great player. He's coming in with a great attitude. I've had a chance to talk to him over the last few months. He's been a great contributor to this team and to this organization. You can never have too many great football players or too many great teammates, so it's great to have him back."

Words echoed by head coach Bill Belichickduring a Tuesday conference call with reporters.

"It's good to have him back on the team. He is a part of the team here now; he's reported. He's been a great player and person for our football team. He is tough. He's smart. He's a dependable player and he's done all those things since he has been here. You just can't have too many guys like that on your football team, so we're glad he's back."

"We obviously want Logan around. He's a good player," said center Dan Koppen, who's used to lining up with Mankins to his left. "But that's not anything I can decide. That's between him and the Patriots.

"He's a friend of mine, so, we talk and it didn't affect any of his relationships in the locker room. He's a good guy."

"I'm good friends with Logan, and it's good to see him here," added Dan Connolly, the man who has replaced Mankins at left guard for most of the season.

"It's great to have him back," concluded left tackle Matt Light. "He looks good, he always keeps himself in good shape. No worries on that end.

"You feel for a player who's in that [holdout] position, but he's back now, so, that's a good thing for us, for this offense. We'll see where it goes."

Wed 11/3 Practice Notebook

For news and notes from Wednesday's practice, please visit the PFW Blog.

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