FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Jake Ballard knows he has a lot more work to do to complete his comeback from two knee operations and play in another NFL game.
The tight end, last seen making a catch for the New York Giants against
New England in the Super Bowl almost 18 months ago, tore up his left
knee on a hit by now-teammate Brandon Spikes on that play and hasn't
Now, he's on the Patriots where he'll try to fill in in for the
arrested Aaron Hernandez and the recovering Rob Gronkowski.
"I'm extremely excited to be out here on the practice field," Ballard
said Saturday, after the team's second full workout. "It's been so long
since I've been able to play. It's just nice being out here being
practicing with the guys I've been hanging around with for about a year
"I'm extremely excited for the season, but first I have to keep
improving in training camp."
The Patriots claimed Ballard, who had microfracture surgery on his knee
as well as an ACL repair, after he was waived by the Giants. At the
time, picking up a player who wasn't going to play seemed a bit odd.
But now Ballard could turn out to be a gem of a signing.
"He was a starting tight end in the National Football League," Patriots
coach Bill Belichick said Saturday. "I don't think it was a big gamble.
Good player at a young age, we played against him, he was a good player
and he was available. I don't think it was a big gamble."
Watching Ballard in practice, it's easy to see his step isn't quite
right. Asked if he's running as well as he did before he got hurt,
Ballard said, "I don't know if I'll ever feel like that, but I
definitely feel a lot better than I have, especially better than the
OTAs. I feel like I'm running smoother, picking up a little bit more
"The knee feels just a little weird and that's just because half of it
is numb from the surgery anyway - all the nerves have been cut. I'm
never going to feel like I was but I'm definitely feeling better the
more I'm out here."
The 6-for-6 Ballard, playing at 260 pounds, 18 pounds lighter than he
was with the Giants, is part of a tight end picture that includes
returnees Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells and rookie free agent
Zach Sudfeld. And, of course, Gronkowski, even though no one really
knows when he'll play after recovering from back surgery that followed
four arm operations.
Ballard doesn't have a lock on a spot — but he's beaten the odds
before. The Giants signed him out of Ohio State as an undrafted free
agent and he went on to catch 38 passes for 604 yards and four
touchdowns as a rookie on a Super Bowl-winning team.
"I just need to get better every day and just work on my route running
and pass protection," he said.
-- The Patriots held the second of three days of morning
practice as the club worked around a pair of Taylor Swift concerts.
There were nearly three dozen big trucks in the parking lot.
-- The Pats have their first day with full pads Sunday.
-- The defensive backs had a tough day in passing drills,
with rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson among those victimizing them
-- Tim Tebow had another rough day throwing.
-- Former linebacker Tedy Bruschi and retiring broadcaster Gil Santos
enter the Patriots Hall of Fame before a night practice Monday.
Ballard Hopes To Have An Impact
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