Monday, August 19, 2013

Fletcher's return bolsters Patriots' depth at LB


Pro Bowl names have been frequenting the New England Patriots' injury report this offseason, from Gronk's ongoing forearm and back problems to Tom Brady's most recent knee saga.

One name that hasn't been present is that of linebacker Dane Fletcher, and his return has already proved an asset.

Fletcher, out of commission all of 2012 following a knee injury this time last year, has had ample time to recover and was able to fully participate in OTAs this spring. Now heading into his third preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Thursday, the 26-year-old is not the only one feeling confident about his progress.

"Dane has worked really hard," coach Bill Belichick told reporters Monday. "He worked hard last season during the fall, after the surgery. While everybody else was playing, he was working hard in the weight room and rehabbing. He had a full spring. Fortunately for this year, the injury occurred early last year so he had almost a full calendar year to rehab it.

"He's been out there all spring, all training camp. He's had a big role for us in the kicking game. He's played well definitely so I think he's had a real good comeback from that injury."

Fletcher had total four stops in the team's win over Philadelphia earlier this month, one of which came on special teams. He also had two pass break-ups in his time with the second-string unit. The Montana State product tallied three tackles in Friday's win over the Bucs.

Fletcher is battling rookies Steve Beauharnais and Jamie Collins for playing time, though his versatility and productiveness in both aspects of the game will likely be enough to earn a roster spot. 

The teams is already pretty solid at the position, with returning starters Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes likely to fill their respective roles from last season. Fletcher is currently listed as Spikes's backup at the middle linebacker spot.

The big "if" is whether Fletcher can continue to stay healthy, which he addressed while speaking with the media on Monday

"I'm comfortable. It's takes a lot to be comfortable after being out a year, I think," he said. "I'm definitely still picking up on a few things, loose ends here and there, but I put that in the past and I'm just trying to stay positive and stay motivated this year.

"(The knee injury) is so in past already, I don't even think about it. I'm just focused."

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