With no fanfare or warning of any kind, Logan Mankins simply walked onto the Patriots practice fields Sunday, dressed in his jersey and helmet. It was the first time he'd done so this summer, as he'd been on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list since camp began.
By suiting up for today's practice, however, Mankins officially came off that list. He had been present for every previous practice, but was limited to running and other rehab-related exercises to strengthen his surgically repaired right knee.
Sunday, Mankins took part in individual position drills, but not team action. By collective bargaining agreement rules, players coming off PUP must spend the first two days of practice in shells and cannot take part fully until thereafter.
Following practice, Mankins spoke with reporters about his return. Though he wouldn't say exactly when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee, he acknowledged that he'd played a significant amount of last season on it.
"I could still run, so there was no reason to sit out," he explained. "There were no MRIs or anything, so we never knew what exactly was hurt. If you could still run and play, there's no reason to go see a doctor, right?
"If I can run, I'm not going to sit out any game. I'm here to play football, not to watch and collect a check," declared Mankins.
He also cleared up some confusion about which knee was operated on. He admitted hurting his left knee while playing left tackle in place of Matt Light late in the year, but that the right knee sustained the ACL tear.
Having to be out of commission for so long proved difficult for the manly Mankins, who, prior to last year, had never missed a practice, let alone a game in his NFL career.
"I've never been hurt, really, so not being out at practice was something new for me, which I didn't enjoy too much. It's good to be back out and just trying to get better as fast as possible.
"In years past," he revealed, "I was always one of the guys that made fun of the guys that were hurt; now I got put in that position. I always felt like we were here to do a job, so you should be out there practicing and playing. The first few weeks of camp were tough not to be out there, but it was something that had to be done."
Mankins wouldn't predict if he'd be starting the season opener at Tennessee in less than a month, but today, he said, was a welcome first step in that direction.
"I knew I needed to be here as one of the older guys of the line just to help out the younger guys, lead by example, stuff like that. Like I said before, my job is to play football, so I'm going to do everything I can to get back on the field as soon as possible.
"It's been a weird camp," he observed with regard to the banged up offensive line as a group. "A lot of guys coming in and then they'll come in for one day and then they're hurt so it's been a lot of shuffling parts in there. I think there were a few practices we only had eight or nine guys. That's pretty tough during camp – not having two full lines. I think the guys are in good shape, they've been working hard and they're working hard on the plays and they're getting better each day. I think they did a good job in the game the other night and gave us some things to build off of."
Report: Burress gets a look
The Patriots brought in free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress for a workout this weekend, according to an ESPN report today.
The move could simply be routine. Teams often have players in for workouts to decide if they should be added to a so-called "emergency list" — a go-to list of potential players to sign in the event of a sudden need at any particular position.
After Sunday's practice, Bill Belichick would neither confirm nor deny the report.
"No, we work out a lot of players," he stated. "We just try to know who is available out there. We work and talk to a lot of guys, give them physicals and all that. I'm not going to comment on any of them individually."
"I think we work out guys all the time, and so it's nothing new around here," echoed wide receiver Wes Welker. "You just kind of roll with it. Whatever Coach Belichick thinks is going to help the team, I'm sure he's going to make those decisions."
So, how does the head coach feel about his wide receiver corps in general?
"I'd pretty much say the same thing about them as the whole rest of the offense," Belichick replied. "When you have 10 punts and two turnovers, we have a long way to go."
Due to some scheduling anomalies this preseason, the Patriots have 10 days sandwiched between their first and second preseason games. Consequently, the week ahead will feel more like the beginning of training camp all over again.
New England next takes plays a week from Monday when they host the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium. The following day, the team will set off for Tampa for a couple of days of joint practices with the Bucs before preseason game number three that Friday.
"We have a long week, so it's a good opportunity for us to get a lot of things done here this week, tie up a few lose ends," Belichick explained. "We have more new installation going in, situations that cover a lot of things like that as well as getting ready, of course, for Philadelphia later on in the week. We have a long week here and then three games in a row, so we don't really have much time after that; we have to get it done this week. This is a big week for us."
"Yeah, I think it's very important," added Welker. "This is kind of the last real week of training camp where we can get some work on the practice field and get ready for some of these preseason games and ultimately get ready for the regular season. It's very important that we come out here and have some good practices."
Buy: Dont'a Hightower – The rookie stepped in for injured Dane Fletcher against the Saints, and had a strong practice Sunday, including an interception.
Sell: Dan Koppen – The incumbent center played sparingly against New Orleans and is seeing fewer and fewer reps with Tom Brady in practice.
Play of the Day: Brady to Gaffney TD – With Gaffney running from left to right along the end line, cornerback Devin McCourty gave tight chase. Brady lofted the ball just high enough over McCourty's head. Gaffney reached up and high-pointed the ball before tip-toeing in the right corner of the end zone for the score.
Quote of the Day: "I don't know. Put a brace on, tape an aspirin to it and go." ~ Logan Mankins on how he played last season with a torn ACL
For more details about today's practice, please visit the PFW blog.