FOXBORO – Wednesday was a big day for Darius Fleming.
Playing on slick, rain-soaked fields at Gillette Stadium, Fleming – a linebacker who’s torn his left ACL the past two years – made it through unblemished.
“You get to a point where you don’t really think about it,” Fleming said when asked if he had any trepidation taking the field. “You can’t focus on that because that’s where you’ll start going crazy. You just want to get to a point where you’re comfortable with your knee, you’re comfortable with your health and just go out and play football. Whatever happens, happens.”
Fleming could use a run of good things happening. A fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2012, Fleming tore his ACL in his first rookie minicamp practice with the 49ers. He missed his rookie season. At the end of last July, he tore the ACL again and missed his second year.
The Niners released Fleming in May. The Patriots – always happy to buy low on a player who shows significant upside – signed Fleming right after the draft.
“We had good grades, a good feeling for Fleming coming out of Notre Dame," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said earlier this offseason. "He's an outside linebacker/end-of-the-line type of player ... but also has shown some versatility to play some inside as a linebacker and he runs well. He's strong, he's physical, and he's shown up in the kicking game.
"So a combination of his athleticism, intelligence, versatility, toughness, and all those things that made him a good player in college. He just didn't have an opportunity really because of the injuries in San Francisco, but I don't think that takes away from what he was able to do."
Last week in the Patriots preseason opener, Fleming flashed speed and athleticism at linebacker. He had seven total tackles against Washington including a tackle for loss. For a team that could use linebacker depth, Fleming has a chance here if he can keep trending upward.
“I’m getting the hang of things,” said Fleming. “It’s been a while since I’ve been out there on the field and I’m trying to get back in the groove of playing football again since it’s been a while since I was able to play.”
Given how long it had been since Fleming played – the 2011 season at Notre Dame – it was a milestone night. How does he think he’s doing overall?
“The coaches come in and correct me every day,” he said diplomatically. “I think I’m doing what they want me to do but there’s a lot of things that I can do better at, but as far as the football aspect, I’m doing enough so I’m here. I’m doing everything in my power to be a good football player and do what the coaches ask me.”
Has he started to do any roster math to gauge his chances?
“That’s another thing you can’t focus on,” Fleming laughed. “It’s out of my control as a player. I can only show the coaches I can play with these guys. You’re gonna make mistakes, you’re gonna have things you need to do better but if I worry about where I fit in along with all the other things we have to do, I would go crazy.”