FOXBOROUGH -- This summer, Tedy Bruschi sightings have been few and far between.
But the senior member of New England’s linebacking corps was in attendance for Sunday afternoon’s training camp session, the first padded practice he’s taken part in since the start of camp on July 30. On a sweltering afternoon that saw two of his younger teammates carted off with what were apparently heat-related maladies, he rotated in with the first and second defense at his traditional inside linebacker spot, looking like he was happy to get a chance to knock heads again.
In his first extended interview since the start of training camp, he explained his extended absence from padded practices by saying he “just had to take care of a few things,” adding that when you get to be his age -- 36 -- it takes a little while longer to bounce back from injury.
“You get a little bit older and you have to mend some aches and some pains -- that’s just why it took a little while longer for me to get out here,” said Bruschi, who didn’t specify the nature of those aches and pains. “But I’m feeling better now, and hopefully, I can get back to work.”
With the first two-plus weeks of training camp (and the first preseason game) already in the books, Bruschi confessed he feels like he needs to play catch-up on what he may have missed.
“Absolutely,” he said. “If I can quote my coach: ‘Practice execution equals reality.’ So you don’t really get that look (in practice), you don’t really get that rep until you’re out here on the practice field.
“Do you feel a little bit behind because you haven’t been out here for so long? Yeah. But you get in the meeting room and watch the film, and hopefully, you don’t become an error repeater.”
Bruschi, who was drafted by the Patriots during Bill Clinton’s first term and took his first snap in the NFL when fellow inside linebacker Jerod Mayo was just 10 years old, said he doesn’t have a preseason timetable in mind when it comes to preparing for the 2009 season.
“That’s something you never think of,” he said. “You go into the second preseason game and say, ‘I should have this many snaps to be ready to go in Week 1’? Absolutely not. You don’t think that way.
“You just have to have yourself ready to play the whole game, like Bill says, and if you do that, even if you don’t get as many reps as you want, at least you were ready to get those reps.”
Some of those reps Sunday were likely in anticipation of playing some middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense. A 3-4 team for many years, the Patriots showed plenty of 4-3 in their preseason opener against the Eagles in Philadelphia last Thursday, and look like they’re going to stay flexible in their defensive approach this season.
“What I know is that everyone around the league always looks at us as unpredictable,” said Bruschi when asked about the possibilities of toying with the 4-3 this year. “I mean you never really know what we’re going to bring to the table -- 4-3, 3-4, 5-2.
“Is it possible for us to do it? I think it is, because of the guys that are multitalented along our fronts. So any type of front that we play, week to week, it’s something for our opponents to guess.”
He’s not the physical on-field presence he was three, four or five years ago -- when healthy last season, he split much of his time at inside linebacker with youngster Gary Guyton -- but the Arizona product will still be counted on this season to provide veteran leadership, as well as consistency at an inside linebacker position that remains in a state of flux.
Even at the dawn of his 14th season, it’s a challenge he welcomes.
“I look at today,” he said when asked about the tests he may face this year. “I look at today, and the challenge I faced today was to come back after a long layoff and sort of feeling like it was my first day again. That’s the number one challenge in terms of getting back to playing football the way I want to play it.”