Healthy dose of reality

Mayo practices but he’s still doubtful

Wes Welker was at practice after missing two games. Wes Welker was at practice after missing two games. (Stephan Savoia/Associated Press)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 3, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - The sight of Jerod Mayo, Wes Welker, and Vince Wilfork all on the practice field was almost enough to make you forget they were still on the injury report.

You’d have to go back to the first quarter of the Patriots’ Week 1 matchup against Buffalo to find a time when they were all available, and having them on the practice field yesterday was an obvious boost to the team.

“It was nice,’’ linebacker Pierre Woods said with a grin. “Very nice. It’s nice to have everybody out there. That way we can all get together, jell, go out there and do what we need to do.’’

Wilfork went down with a sprained left ankle in the second quarter of last Sunday’s win over Atlanta. A knee injury has kept Welker out of consecutive games for the first time in his career. But they were both in sweat pants and shells for the end-of-the-week session.

Mayo, the defensive leader in his second season, was on the practice field for the first time since he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the first quarter against the Bills. He appeared to be wearing a brace under his sweats. “He looks great, can’t tell no difference,’’ Woods said.

“I think it was a good lift for everybody to see him back out there,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “It was good to have him in a uniform.’’

Belichick gushed over the work Mayo has done to get himself back on the practice field - coming in early for treatment and film study. The recuperation time for Mayo’s injury is 6-8 weeks.

“He doesn’t spend half the day playing dominoes,’’ Belichick said. “He works hard. He’s here with a purpose he gets a lot done.’’

For all the optimism, though, the injury report was a dose of reality.

Belichick listed Welker and Wilfork as questionable and Mayo as doubtful for tomorrow’s game against the Ravens.

“Truly, the term questionable, that’s what it is,’’ Belichick said. “Just because they’re there today, that doesn’t really say where they’re going to be tomorrow or more importantly the next day.’’

The next day in this case is game day. And for Belichick, taking the step from getting medical clearance for a player to be on the field and deciding if that player is ready to play takes a lot of consideration.

“Sometimes after they go out and do something today they kind of realize tomorrow or Sunday that it doesn’t really improve much,’’ Belichick said. “Other guys, it’s kind of the start of a couple more days of further healing and then by Sunday they are ready to go.’’

There is no set formula, Belichick said. The same goes for determining if it’s worth putting a player on the field when he isn’t 100 percent.

“There’s a lot of players that play that can’t do everything 100 percent,’’ Belichick said. “That’s just the way it is. Maybe the guy can do everything but this. [They might say] ‘This is the one thing that bothers me a little bit.’ Or, ‘I can’t perform this the way I need to.’ OK, then, maybe you try to keep him out of that situation. Each case is different, each player is different.’’

Welker understands the process.

“Every day I’m missing out there I’m missing on some timing and getting those reps out there and those are always key,’’ he said. “You want to make sure you’re able to do those at 100 percent. You just got to make sure that you’re feeling right and not running those routes half-[speed] or anything.’’

Welker said he was close to playing against the Jets, “but your mind tells you one thing and your body says another. I had to listen to the body on that day.’’

Players have to be just as honest with themselves as coaches in evaluating their readiness.

“You know being a football player you always want to get out there and play,’’ Welker said. “The main thing is being smart and making sure you’re ready for the long haul.’’

As for tomorrow, Belichick said he still has some considering to do.

“I think we had a few guys that’ll probably be closer to game-time decisions,’’ Belichick said. “Guys that maybe didn’t practice one of the days earlier in the week, or maybe both of them. Then, if they go out there [tomorrow] and that’s good, then we’ll see where they are and make a call on that on Sunday.’’

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