One of the New England Patriots' best players may be closer to playing again than expected.
Mankins tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last year, and played through the injury in Super Bowl XLVI. There is no guarantee that he'll be ready for the start of the 2012 season, but his return to the field is telling. The Patriots want Mankins to test where his recovery stands. He did not participate in team drills during the non-padded practice.
Belichick must be thrilled to see Mankins back on the field. New England's offensive line has looked ragged for much of training camp and struggled against the New Orleans Saints in the Patriots' preseason opener. Donald Thomas has been lining up as the starting left guard. The starting unit is without veteran guard Brian Waters and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
It was a day of returns for the Patriots in their first practice since the win over New Orleans. Linebacker Brandon Spikes practiced for the first time in more than a week and wide receiver Deion Branch participated in team drills after being limited last week.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.