By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots are a close-to-the-vest, even-keeled team regardless of who the opponent may be.
That lock-and-load focus has been on another level leading up to Sunday's game against AFC rival New York Jets.
Of course, having focus always helps.
Healthy bodies? Even better.
The Pats are certainly moving in the right direction on the health front, with a couple of key players -- tight end Aaron Hernandez (knee) and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (back) -- returning to practice this week.
"Anytime you got another weapon out there, it helps out and really helps us move the ball and get us working down the field," said Pats wide receiver Wes Welker, whose success of late has been in part because of the absence of Hernandez. "The more weapons we can have out there, the better we can be."
The same goes for the Patriots defensive line, which came into the season with one of the deepest, most experienced lines in the NFL.
In addition to Haynesworth, who hasn't played in the last two games, New England's defensive line also includes battle-tested veterans such as Andre Carter (32-years old), Vince Wilfork (30 next month), Shaun Ellis (34), Gerard Warren (34) and Mike Wright (29) who returned to practice this week after being out due to another concussion - he missed final 7 games of last season due to a concussion.
The plan going into the season was to platoon players along the defensive line as much as possible, which would keep a fresh, hard-charging body on the field on almost every down.
But the absence of Haynesworth, 30, has meant more reps for the veterans. And over the course of a game, their ability to impact a game diminishes.
Getting injured players back on the practice field is just part of the process involved in their return to actually seeing action and contributing in a meaningful way. As important as the first day back is in a player's recovery, Day Two is even more telling.
"The question really is the second day, was that too much? Do they need to back off a little bit? Was that something they could easily handle and are we able to escalate the workload?" Belichick said. "If that second day goes good, that's probably a good indication the player is ready to move up. If it doesn't or it levels off or starts to stress whatever the injury is, then the medical people will back him off a little bit until we're able to raise up and get to a higher level."