With little fanfare, Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel rejoined his teammates at Gillette Stadium Monday.
Here's how head coach Bill Belichick, during his daily press conference, heralded Samuel's arrival.
"Asante came to the facility this morning. I spoke to him. He's going through the normal process that any player would go through at the beginning of camp in terms of taking the conditioning run and so forth. That's basically where we are on that one."
And with that, Samuel's month-long absence came to an end, almost as matter-of-factly as it had begun.
The 5-10, 185-pounder has not yet been spotted by members of the media, neither in the Patriots locker room nor at Monday afternoon's practice. But at least one of Samuel's teammates has caught up with him already.
"Yeah, I saw him this morning. Said 'What's up' to him," fellow corner Ellis Hobbs revealed prior to practice.
Samuel, now officially embarking on his fifth NFL season, presumably has signed his one-year, $7.79 million offer sheet with New England. The Patriots owed him that amount (the average of the top five salaries at his position throughout the league) after placing the franchise tag on him back in February. That move came after Samuel's original contract had expired and he had tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (10) in 2006.
New England's front office had been trying to work out a long-term deal with Samuel throughout the offseason. However, when the deadline to reach an agreement came and went, Samuel decided to skip training camp. He could have stayed away until Week 10 of the regular season without losing credit for an accrued NFL season.
Both sides must now wait until the end of the regular season to continue contract extension discussions.
When asked if he was relieved that the situation had been resolved, at least for the time being, Belichick responded, "Yes, it's always good to have all of the players available. Sure."
A reporter wondered aloud how quickly Samuel would be able to contribute to this year's team.
"I don't know," Belichick answered. "We'll just take it day-to-day just like everything else."
Pressed on the issue, Belichick would only reply, "We'll take it day-to-day."
Hobbs elaborated a bit more on the topic.
"Our main goal has been to practice without Asante; that's what we've been doing [this preseason]. So, it's really all on him now, how well he adapts to us and gets back into the swing of things."
Now that Samuel is back, he will be expected to reclaim his starting role at left corner, opposite Hobbs on the right. The latter offered his thoughts on what the former brings to New England's defensive secondary.
"He brings maturity to the defense, an understanding of what we do, and how we do it in our system."
But what about all the time he's missed so far this year?
"It's business, you know," Hobbs mused. "The business side is over with, obviously. Now it's time to get down to the real business on the field, and try to win ballgames."
And will the Pats defense be better equipped to win games now that Number 22 is back in the fold?
"We'll find out," Hobbs quipped. "I think we're ready for anything that Bill throws at us."
As much as professional football has become a business, it's sometimes hard to separate oneself emotionally when teammates – close friends, even – are involved in such high-profile spectacles.
Hobbs admitted as much, and then summed up Samuel's situation best when he said, "This is a guy I've been playing with and enjoy being around. It's not like he's a jerk or anything. I'm just happy to see him back ... He's made the decision that he's made, so, let's move on."
Monday Practice Notes
In addition to Samuel, several other Patriots were not seen at practice Monday, most notably S Eugene Wilson (who appeared to come up gingerly after Carolina's only touchdown last Friday). OL Russ Hochstein, RB Sammy Morris, WR Randy Moss, and DL Mike Wright were among a handful of other players who were absent.
On a positive note, TE Kyle Brady and WR Jabar Gaffney were back in full pads. Brady had been out of action for nearly a month and has missed all three preseason games. Gaffney has not played since the Tennessee game two Fridays ago.
RB Kevin Faulk and DL Ty Warren, both of whom missed the Carolina game, were on the practice field Monday in full pads.
All five players on PUP (WR Troy Brown, WR Chad Jackson, DB Eddie Jackson, DL Richard Seymour, and TE David Thomas) remain there.