FOXBOROUGH (AP)- When first questioned, New England Patriots left guard Logan Mankins budged about as much as he does on the field.
After practicing for the first time Sunday since offseason surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the 310-pound perennial Pro Bowler admitted he was surprised when he learned the diagnosis following the Patriots' 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl in February.
"I'm not going to get into when it happened because it happened a long time ago," said Mankins, sporting a brace on his right knee. "A lot longer than then you would have thought it happened. It wasn't 100 percent, but it was still functional."
With a little prodding, Mankins eventually backed off his stance, divulging more information about the timeline of the injury.
Was he injured before the Super Bowl?
"Yeah," he said.
During the regular season?
"Possibly," he added with a wry smile.
Despite knowing that something was wrong with his knee, perhaps even a torn ACL at the time, Mankins said playing in the Super Bowl was never a question, especially with his pain threshold being "pretty good."
"The Super Bowl was a tough one. I was banged up a little bit, but everyone was at that point of the year," Mankins said. "Everyone knew something wasn't quite right, so that's why we had an MRI after the game to see what was wrong.
"I could still run so there was no reason to sit out. There was 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?"
Mankins' presence Sunday was a welcome sight for quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots' offense, even if he participated only in light drills with no contact or pads and for only about half of the evening session.
"Seeing a guy like him, he's been in the Pro Bowl multiple times and a great leader on our team and a tough guy, it's great to have him out here, and especially what he's had to overcome this offseason," said receiver Wes Welker, who tore an ACL and MCL at the end of the 2010 season. "I definitely have an appreciation for what he's had to go through this offseason.
"Logan is about as tough as they come. For him to be out there on the field, that doesn't surprise me one bit."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick echoed that sentiment.
"Nobody's worked harder than Logan," he said. "He comes in early, stays late, works hard. We know he's a really tough, dependable guy and he's put a lot into it."
His timing couldn't have been much better, either.
The seven-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowler adds a much-needed veteran presence to an unstable offensive line that seemed shaky in New England's 7-6 preseason victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday.
Other than Mankins' absence, the biggest void was left by the offseason retirement of three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light. And guard Brian Waters, a six-time Pro Bowler, still hasn't reported to training camp, so his status with the team is in limbo.
Mankins felt he had to return as soon as he could.
"I knew I needed to be here as one of the older guys of the line, just to help out younger guys, lead by example, stuff like that," he said. "Like I said before, my job's to play football, so I'm going to do everything I can to get back on the field as soon as possible."
While he isn't sure when he will be cleared for full contact or if he will even make it back by the season opener on Sept. 9, Mankins is looking forward to playing alongside Nate Solder, the second-year left tackle who had a trying preseason opener.
Tasked with one of the most pressing jobs on the offensive line - protecting Brady's blind side in the wake of Light's departure - Solder allowed Saints defensive end Will Smith to beat him around the end before strip-sacking Brady early in the game.
Mankins is confident Solder will improve.
"Nate's one of those guys that's going to do everything in his power to get better and to work hard," he said. "He's always studying, always lifting, always running. If you've seen him, he's in phenomenal shape and he's a great athlete and he's got the mindset to work hard."
That's exactly what Mankins was forced to do during the offseason.
He called the rehabilitation process tedious, saying it took "forever" just to be able to flex his leg again.
"You just keep working at it, and hopefully you get it strong enough in time," he said. "We were kind of working on a short schedule here, so we were pushing it pretty good."
Watching from the sidelines, however, didn't sit well with Mankins.
He had never sustained a serious injury, so missing the first couple of weeks of training camp did not sit well.
Not to mention he had to take a little grief for it, too, considering he dished it out to his teammates in the past.
"I was always one of the guys that made fun of the guys that was hurt. Now, I got put in that position," Mankins said. "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 was tough not to be out there, but it was something that had to be done.
"It's good to be back out and just trying to get better as fast as possible."
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