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Chung is getting his feet under him

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / December 23, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - Safety Patrick Chung, who has missed the last six games with a right foot injury, has practiced all week and was spotted in the locker room hopping, running, and bouncing. If you didn’t know about the injury, you wouldn’t conclude he’s hurt.

His return would certainly help a depleted secondary that has turned to offensive players such as Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater as fill-ins. Getting Chung back won’t correct all the defensive problems facing the Patriots. It might be a start, though.

He spent a few minutes with the media after practice yesterday, but wouldn’t disclose his status for tomorrow’s game with the Dolphins.

“It’s a day-to-day process,’’ Chung said, when asked about his rehab. “Just keep working, keep doing whatever I have to do to get better.’’

Was talking to the media in the locker room a good sign he might be playing tomorrow?

“You can think what you want of that,’’ Chung said. “I feel good and I’m working hard.’’

Chung has practiced occasionally during the last six weeks, giving some observers the feeling that he’s been close, only to miss yet another game.

Did he ever think the injury would cost him the rest of the season?

“Never, never, never,’’ Chung said. “Sometimes it feels good, sometimes it doesn’t.’’

How has he spent the last six weeks?

“Watching us win. I wasn’t a part of it, but we’re winning,’’ Chung said. “We’re a team, we’re not individuals here. We’re winning.’’

Active role

Vincent Fuller was at home watching football with his family in Baltimore last weekend, not knowing if his NFL career would see another day. Days later his agent called, saying the Patriots were interested. By Wednesday, the defensive back had signed a contract and participated in his first practice, and yesterday he had a chance to describe what the past few days have been like.

“I got a phone call, came here, signed a contract. That’s basically it,’’ Fuller said. “I was sitting at home with my family last Sunday. Now I have a chance to play this week.’’

Fuller played in one game for the Lions this season, but was placed on injured reserve with an elbow injury. The Lions released him Dec. 7, making him a free agent. He had worked out for the Patriots earlier in the season, so the coaches weren’t completely unfamiliar with him. Based on what was happening here, he’s not surprised the Patriots called.

“I knew the Patriots had some issues in their secondary, with injuries and things of that nature,’’ said Fuller, who has six career interceptions in seven seasons, four of which he returned for touchdowns.

He’s never worn a Patriots uniform in a game, but knows plenty about his new team.

“That they win. That’s basically the bottom line,’’ Fuller said. “I’ve always had a lot of admiration and respect for Coach [Bill] Belichick and the staff and the way that they run their program, so just coming in here and hopefully getting an opportunity to help is something I look forward to doing.’’

Taking charge

The Patriots might be last in the league in total yards allowed - at 5,801 through 14 games (414.4 average), they’re on pace to give up 6,629, which would be the second most in league history - but only four teams have forced more turnovers this season. With 28 takeaways (18 interceptions, 10 fumbles recovered), the Patriots lead the AFC, and their plus-12 turnover differential trails only the 49ers (plus 25) and Packers (plus 20).

It’s a big reason why, in addition to a high-powered offense, the Patriots are 11-3.

“Having turnovers throughout the whole season has been really big for us,’’ said linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who has two interceptions and two fumble recoveries this season. “I think that we’re, I don’t know the exact number, maybe third in the league with turnovers. That was definitely a huge turning point in the Denver game, being able to capitalize on the turnovers and getting some points out of it.

“Every day in practice, [it’s] working on getting interceptions, falling on the ball when you see it, being in the right place at the right time.’’

Knowing their limits

Fuller was one of 16 Patriots on yesterday’s injury report, listed under limited participation because of a forearm issue. Two players, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer and linebacker Brandon Spikes, did not practice. Spikes, who has missed the last six games with a knee injury, was limited on Wednesday, and his absence yesterday could be a sign he still isn’t ready to return.

The other Patriots who were limited were defensive backs Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty, James Ihedigbo, and Chung; receivers Deion Branch, Edelman, Slater, and Wes Welker; running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Shane Vereen; offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Brian Waters; and linebacker Dane Fletcher. Green-Ellis had missed Wednesday’s practice, with illness listed as the cause.

The Dolphins’ injury report was much shorter. Tight end Anthony Fasano sat out with a head injury, while tackle Jake Long (back) and receiver Brandon Marshall (knee) had limited participation.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.

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