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Pats' Bruschi at full strength for minicamp

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (June 14, 2006) -- Tedy Bruschi charged at Tom Brady as the quarterback threw a pass.

Later, Bruschi chased running back Laurence Maroney when the Patriots' first-round draft pick ran a short pass route. The throw to the right side was long, but Bruschi gave the rookie a light shove in the back, anyway.

Just like old times, the signal-caller of New England 's defense was back in the middle of the action, one year after missing the 2005 minicamp while recovering from a stroke he had four months earlier and wondering about his return to football.

"He's a great player," Maroney said at the team's minicamp. "Going against great linebackers like him in practice is just setting me up just in case I do get in a game situation."

Bruschi missed the first six regular-season games of 2005 before being cleared by doctors, but was "dissatisfied" at the end of the season "because I think toward the end I really started to play good football again and I just wanted to win another Super Bowl," he said.

He missed the last regular-season game and first playoff game with a calf injury and was back for the 27-13 AFC divisional loss in Denver in which he recorded five tackles.

Since then, he's been working out regularly and participated fully in the first two days of the three-day minicamp that ends June 15.

"The offseason workouts have gone great for me so far," said Bruschi, who is entering his 11th NFL season. "I participated in virtually every one and I look forward to completing the program and being ready for training camp" starting the second half of July.

Last September, though, he said he wouldn't play the 2005 season because of the mild stroke he suffered on Feb. 16, just 10 days after the Patriots' third championship in four years and three days after he played in his first Pro Bowl. He later had surgery to repair a hole in his heart.

Bruschi knew he had to be patient throughout his recovery and it worked. He shared The Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year award with wide receiver Steve Smith of Carolina.

"I believe in the process -- offseason workouts, minicamps, training camps, preseason," he said. "To truly get ready for the opener you need all this stuff. You need steps like this and it's nice to see that everybody's got a good attitude out here and is excited about getting back to work."

Bruschi's presence is critical, especially after the Patriots lost team leader and linebacker Willie McGinest as a free agent to the Cleveland Browns.

But Bruschi already had seen plenty of change since he joined the Patriots in 1996 as a third-round pick from Arizona, where he played defensive end. He was primarily a special teams player and pass-rushing specialist as a rookie, when he played all 16 games but never started.

By his fourth season, he was a full-time starter at outside linebacker. A few years later, he switched to inside linebacker, his current position.

There have been changes "every year for a while now," Bruschi said. "Last year at this time I wasn't out there."

The Patriots were 3-3 by the time he returned and went 7-2 with him before he missed the last regular season game, an improvement that impressed starting cornerback Ellis Hobbs, a rookie last season.

"When he wasn't out there we had a lot of mix-ups, just not a lot of order," Hobbs said, "but when he comes he kind of ceases all the chaos. He knows how to get everybody in line and he just has a controlling voice out there. You know when you're hearing his voice; it's very demanding, but calm and in control."

That voice is back, as strong as ever, 16 months after he was hospitalized for blurry vision and numbness in his left arm and left leg.

"I always judge myself by how I'm doing in the offseason workouts, and I'm doing great," Bruschi said. "I just turned 33 (last Friday), and I'm keeping an eye on myself to see if I'm getting old or not. I'm still feeling good."

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