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Bruschi returns to practice

LB bears down, could play in season opener

With the words ‘‘Bear Down’’ on his cast, Tedy Bruschi looks up to catch the ball during a drill with Randall Gay at practice.
With the words ‘‘Bear Down’’ on his cast, Tedy Bruschi looks up to catch the ball during a drill with Randall Gay at practice. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

FOXBOROUGH -- Tedy Bruschi went back to his roots yesterday.

Returning to practice for the first time since July 31, Bruschi reflected on the slogan of his alma mater -- the University of Arizona -- for inspiration. Written in black letters on the cast that covered his right wrist was a reminder for him to ``Bear Down!" That's been the rallying cry for Arizona's athletic department since 1926.

As the regular season bears down on the Patriots, Bruschi took a step toward suiting up Sunday against the Bills by participating in the team's full-pads workout. The number of drills in which Bruschi participated is unknown, and at what intensity he worked. On their injury report released yesterday afternoon, the Patriots noted Bruschi missed at least a portion of team-specific drills.

Before practice, coach Bill Belichick was asked how Bruschi was progressing and said, ``He's getting better every day."

Bruschi, who underwent surgery on the scaphoid bone of his wrist Aug. 9 at Massachusetts General Hospital, remains questionable, giving him a 50-50 chance of playing in the opener. Bruschi had targeted Sunday for his return since the surgery, and told fans at the team's Kickoff Gala last week that the wrist was making progress.

If Bruschi plays Sunday, he'd do so with the cast.

``I'm sure that at some point that will be part of his equipment just like it is with all players that have injuries that need a little support," Belichick said. ``I don't think there's any doubt about that."

The cast will make it more challenging for Bruschi to secure the football, which was evidenced during practice when he attempted to pick up a loose ball, with cornerback Randall Gay nearby, and it squirted free. The 33-year-old inside linebacker ultimately corralled the ball after tipping it in the air a few times.

Bruschi's return to practice strengthens one of the thinner positions of the roster. Mike Vrabel and Junior Seau are the projected starters at inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense without Bruschi, leaving Rosevelt Colvin and Tully Banta-Cain on the outside. The team's top backup at outside linebacker is rookie free agent Pierre Woods, while the backups inside are Don Davis, Larry Izzo, and Eric Alexander, all of whom make their marks more on special teams.

As Bruschi works his way into game shape, the likely scenario is that he splits time with Seau. Bruschi has been taking part in meetings and has been a coach of sorts to the 37-year-old Seau, who said he's been asking ``a lot of questions" of Bruschi and his teammates.

At one point early in practice yesterday, Bruschi, with his white socks pulled up to his knees, shared a laugh with Vrabel. The two have spoken in the past about how much they enjoyed playing together in the middle of the defense.

``I like playing with Tedy because he's a great friend and we know a lot about each other," Vrabel said earlier in training camp. ``We're pretty similar. So I think when you see us out there, there is a lot of interaction, and I enjoy that.

``It's not only the success we've had, but just having fun playing with a great friend."

Prior to his injury, Bruschi had set the tone in training camp, welcoming rookie running back Laurence Maroney to the NFL with a big hit on a screen pass. He also felt he had ``a great offseason" in the team's conditioning program.

Bruschi's return to practice wasn't a surprise to his agent, Brad Blank.

``Knowing him, I'd never rule him out," said Blank.

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