Patriots LB Fletcher progressing after surgery
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Football and Dane Fletcher didn't seem like
the best match.
Hockey was his first choice. He didn't get drafted in the NFL. He spent
all last season on injured reserve with the New England Patriots after
hurting his knee in the first quarter of the first exhibition game.
There were times when the light at the end of his long rehabilitation
tunnel seemed pretty dim.
"It always seems like that," Fletcher said. "Finally, I see the light
and it's exciting just to get back on the field again."
Healthy once more, the second-string middle linebacker will play in his
third exhibition game Thursday night against the Lions in Detroit. And
he has a better idea of what to look for after having plenty of time to
study film while recovering from surgery for a torn anterior cruciate
ligament in his left knee.
"I just dedicated myself to stay positive, stay motivated and take as
much as you possibly can out of it when you're not on the field,"
Fletcher said. "I probably learned a lot more about the game than I
probably would have known if I was out on the field."
Fletcher isn't about to replace Brandon Spikes as the starting middle
linebacker. But he could contribute on passing downs since Spikes
specializes in stopping the run. Fletcher also is a solid special teams
player — and it was on special teams that he sustained his injury.
It happened against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 9, 2012 as he was
running to cover a punt.
"I knew right away," Fletcher said. "Now I'm so focused on the now and
I'm just excited."
In this year's opening exhibition game, Fletcher played 37 snaps on
defense, the second most of any Patriots linebacker, in a 31-22 win
over the Eagles in Philadelphia. He had four tackles on the night. Last
week, he was on the field for only 12 snaps in s 25-21 win over the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but made three tackles.
"While everybody else was playing, he was working hard in the weight
room and rehabbing," coach Bill Belichick said. "He had a full spring
(to work out). Fortunately for this year, the injury occurred early
last year so he had almost a full calendar year to rehab it."
But hockey was Fletcher's main sport before college. He even played for
the Bozeman Icedogs of the American West Hockey League in his home
town. Then he snared a football scholarship to Montana State and turned
into a star defensive end as a senior when he led the Big Sky
Conference with 17½ tackles and seven sacks.
"A Montana kid, I'm sure, growing up in the country and killing ox or
moose or whatever he was doing to eat dinner," Patriots defensive end
Rob Ninkovich said with a smile, "I'm sure that makes him pretty tough.
"Any time there's an obstacle in his way, he attacks that."
Despite his strong college career, Fletcher was bypassed in the 2010
draft. A few days later, the Patriots signed him and started converting
him to linebacker.
He has 51 tackles in 23 games over two seasons but he's still adjusting
to that position.
"One of my main focuses this year was to work on my pass coverage and
really nail that down," Fletcher said. "I feel like I've been doing
well and (there's) always room to improve."
Being overlooked by all 32 teams in the draft may have motivated him.
That same snub drove Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, who was
undrafted out of Hofstra in 2008 but tied for the NFL lead with seven
interceptions in 2011.
"It's just a natural chip just placed on your shoulder as far as not
being overlooked, not really getting this opportunity you always felt
like you deserved," Arrington said. "It's one of those things that make
you work harder to prove yourself."
Fletcher is doing that. And he isn't worrying about his surgically
repaired knee anymore.
"It was a big milestone after that first preseason game just to prove
to myself that I've still got it," he said. "I forgot how much I loved
NOTES: WR Danny Amendola missed practice
for the second straight day after making six catches in last Friday's
exhibition game. Belichick said before Tuesday's session that his
return is "day to day." ... Free-agent rookie Ryan Allen from Louisiana Tech is challenging Zoltan Mesko, entering his fourth season, for the
punting job. "It's a very competitive situation," Belichick said
Tuesday. Allen was the Ray Guy Award winner the past two years as the
nation's best college punter.
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