- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Four-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Logan Mankins was removed from the physically unable to perform list by the New England Patriots on Sunday, returning to practice for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.
In doing so, he revealed that he played parts of last season with the injury. The secret to his ability to play through such pain?
"Put a brace on, tape an aspirin to it and go," he cracked.
There was no aspirin taped to the black brace Mankins wore during Sunday's practice, in which he only participated in individual drills, but the eight-year veteran was all smiles afterward. He said he missed being on the field with his teammates, and given some of the early struggles of the offensive line, it was clear the unit missed him.
Mankins wouldn't specify when the injury occurred, saying only that "it happened a long time ago, a lot longer than you would have thought it happened." The only thing he ruled out is that it didn't happen when he was thrust into an emergency role at left tackle late in the year (he actually hurt his left knee at that time).
So why keep playing?
"It wasn't 100 percent, but it was still functionable," he explained of the torn right ACL. "I could still run, so there was no reason to sit out. There were no MRIs or anything, so we never knew exactly what was hurt. If you can still run and play, there is no reason to go see a doctor, right?"
It wasn't until an MRI taken after Super Bowl XLVI that the exact injury was discovered.
"I knew something was wrong with it. I didn't know to what extent," he said. "It was a little surprising."
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Mankins explained that the plan is to take his return slowly, but he hopes to be ready for the Patriots' regular-season opener Sept. 9 in Tennessee.
Sunday marked an important milestone in his recovery process.
"It's a big step. We haven't put on pads or anything yet, so whenever that gets to happen, that will be the next big step, and we'll see how it goes," he said, pointing out that it wouldn't be possible without Patriots athletic trainers Jim Whalen, David Granito and Joe Van Allen, along with strength and conditioning coaches Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera.
Mankins revealed that he would privately give the team's injured players a hard time in recent seasons, but the tables were turned on him this year.
"I always felt like we were here to do a job, so you should be out there practicing and playing. ... I'm here to play football, not watch and collect a check," he said. "The first few weeks of camp were tough to not be out there, but it was something that had to be done."
When the Patriots held their early walkthrough portion of practice Sunday, Mankins was back in his familiar spot with the first unit, replacing five-year veteran Donald Thomas, who primarily filled in for him over the last few weeks.
Coach Bill Belichick praised Mankins' work ethic over the offseason.
"Nobody's worked harder than Logan," he said. "He comes in early, stays late, works hard. We know he's a really tough, dependable guy. He's put a lot into it. He's worked as hard as anybody can."
Receiver Wes Welker, who returned from a torn ACL in the 2010 season, echoed those thoughts.
"He's been in the Pro Bowl multiple times, a great leader on our team, and tough guy, it's great to see him out here," he said. "I definitely have an appreciation for what he's had to go through."