Tommy Kelly thrilled with return to field

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. -- Veteran Patriots defensive tackle Tommy Kelly donned full pads for the first time on Tuesday, marking yet another step in the process of returning from a torn right ACL suffered a season ago.

And while Kelly was very cognizant that the “process” still had a long way to go -- he didn’t participate in any contact drills -- strapping on the pads and taking reps with the first-team defense was a welcomed sight for the 33-year old.

“It felt wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” Kelly said. “I’ve been itching to get back on the field so it felt real good baby, real good.”

The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kelly initially began camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list but was removed on July 26. He’s slowly easing into a more rigorous schedule, but referenced on numerous occasions that the coaching staff had a process and a plan in place for him and indicated his rehab has been a positive experience.

“At the end of the day, [the coaching staff] is looking out for your best interest,” he said. “I’m a veteran, I want to get out on the field, I’m the type of guy that I can’t roll out of bed and my game is going to be great. I gotta go out there every day and work on my hands, work on my get-out, work on my explosions, read my keys. I’m the type of guy that loves practice.”

If Kelly has any doubts on returning to the player he was a season ago, he didn’t show it on Tuesday. He spoke at length about having confidence in himself and noted how prior experience -- he originally tore the same ACL in 2007 -- prepared him for his rehabilitation process this time around.

“I’ve been down that dark road,” Kelly said. “I know how it feels and how you doubt yourself. But I also know that if you work your tail off every day, it’s going to come back ... come in here and work your butt off, and your knee is going to be fine.”

One of his goals is to quickly gain the trust back of both his teammates and the coaching staff so he can be relied upon to be an anchor on the defensive line.

“You don’t want anybody out there thinking you’re the weak link,” Kelly said. “And I’ve never been the weak link in my career, and I’m not going to start being a weak link.

“I’m not trying to come back and be the player I was. I’m trying to come back and be a better player than I was,” he continued. “Because this is a very hard team to make, so if you don’t go out and put it on the line every day you’re not going to be here, simple as that.”