FOXBORO — Logan Mankins  laughed at the mere mention of the question.
Has this year been difficult for the big, bruising starting left guard for the Patriots?
“Physically? Yeah. I’ve missed some games; of course it’s been tough,” Mankins said Thursday. “You’d like to be healthy for the whole season, but it just doesn’t always go that way.”
To be specific, Mankins missed six games this season with various injuries. He missed Sept. 30 in Buffalo with a sore hip. He missed the Jets game at home the Rams game in London with a recurrence of the hip issue along with a bad calf. Then, he came back against the Bills at home on Nov. 11, only to turn his left ankle, forcing him to miss the next three games before starting the final four of the season.
But a little perspective reveals that a bum hip, ankle and calf isn’t about to stop a man who played with torn ACL and MCL in his right knee last season.
“I feel a lot better,” Mankins said when asked to compare how he feels now to 12 months ago. “Last year at this time I had a torn MCL and a torn ACL. So I feel a lot better.”
Mankins was one of those who really needed the bye week to get extra rest for the playoffs. Does he feel like a new man this week?
“Well I was until the last three days of practice,” he said with a smile. “You know you always feel pretty good after a bye, after a couple of days off. Not having a game, you freshen up a little. So yeah, I feel pretty good.”
Is the bye particularly beneficial for the offensive line given the physical nature of the position?
“Yeah, if you make the most of it,” he said. “If you get a few good lifts in, some good running and get off your feet when you go home, it’s always beneficial, if you use it to your advantage.”
But now, the task gets tougher – a lot tougher. J.J. Watt and the Texans defensive line will certainly try to find different ways to pressure the Patriots offensive line Sunday afternoon.
“Well it’s going to be really tough,” Mankins said. “You have probably the best D-lineman in the league in J.J. Watt and then you’ve got Antonio Smith, another very good defensive lineman. So those two together are very tough and then you put all four of them out there at one time and they’re a tough matchup for anyone. You see the problems they give teams every week. Cincinnati scored six points on offense, so that says a lot right there, to hold a team to six points in the playoffs.”
What makes J.J. Watt so special in Mankins’ eyes?
“It starts with he’s got all of the physical tools: he’s big, strong, fast and then he plays relentless,” Mankins said. “He’s a high-motor guy that hustles a lot and he’s got a great playing style, so that’s why he’s good.”
Here’s the rest of Thursday’s interview with Mankins:
Q: How have you noticed your role change being the elder guy on the offensive line?
LM: Yeah I’m the oldest guy in there now, but I think guys have always looked to me about the same way, a hard-working guy that plays hard football and tries to do the right things. So, I haven’t changed and guys still look at me the same way.
Q: How do you lead on the offensive line? Having been around as long as you have, what have you found is the best way to lead a group of younger offensive linemen?
LM: Being coachable, doing what the coach wants of you, putting the team before yourself. You might not feel good and you might not want to practice, but you still go out there and practice as hard as you can.
Q: How much progress have you seen from Sebastian Vollmer  during his time with the Patriots?
LM: Sebastian is a good player. He’s been a good guy for us for a few years and he only continues to get better.
Q: This is the 10th postseason appearance for the Patriots under Bill Belichick  and you have been here for a bunch of those. What is it about Coach Belichick and the way he conducts business that has you guys in this position year in and year out.
LM: Well he’s a good coach first and foremost. He works us hard, but he puts in the work himself too. I think he’s great at breaking down film and getting the message across to us, what we have to do to beat teams. He’s had guys that buy into his system and the way that he wants us to play and I think that works well.
Q: Does being in this position feel the same to you as it did in each of the previous years that you have been to the playoffs?
LM: Yeah it feels great every year. This is what you play for. These are the games we want to be in and it’s always easy to go to practice when you’re preparing for a game like this. It makes it nice. You want to get better, you want to prepare and do your best in these games.
Q: The Junior Seau  report came out today and linked head trauma from his playing to pressure and anxiety. Is that worrisome for all athletes from kids to pros?
LM: I’d say so, probably if you sit down and really think about it. But it’s the playoffs right now, so that’s the least of our concerns right now. You could probably say we’re meatheaded and ignorant not to think about it, but maybe in February after the season we can think about that.
Q: There have been a number of defensive players that have noted there is a moment of panic when they realize how quickly you guys get plays off. Do you notice when you have caught the defense off guard?
LM: Yeah, they’re not lined up where they are supposed to be. A lot of teams play the same front all the time and you’re prepared for them to be there and then you get lined up fast, run a play and they’re all over the place scrambling around. So, you know they’re off balance.
Q: Does that give you a gleam in your eye when you see that the speed of the offense has done what it is supposed to do?
LM: Sometimes, [but] sometimes it screws us up if we’re expecting them to be somewhere and they’re not there [laughs]. So it works good and it works bad sometimes.
Q: Can you talk about the job that Ryan Wendell has done this year replacing an All-Pro like Dan Koppen ?
LM: Yeah Ryan did a great job. We all knew what Ryan was capable of. He had a good camp, won the starting job and he’s been out there every game for us and has done a very good job. He’s dependable, he’s coachable and he does all of the things that we want in a center.
Q: Having played a guy like J.J. Watt once already, do you feel like you are more prepared to take on a guy like that who is obviously a good player or is it a new challenge every time you face him?
LM: Well it’s going to be a new challenge every time, but I think to play against him, you see him on film and you say, ‘That’s a pretty good player right there,’ and then to go against him and you really know what he’s capable of doing. So it helps you a little bit, but it still comes down to one man versus him and either you’ve got it or you don’t.
Q: Have you done things in your career to address safety issues? Have you tinkered or adjusted any of your equipment’
LM: No [laughs].
Q: So do you wear the same helmet now that you have worn since you came into the league?
LM: Yeah they just came out with that helmet my last year in college and I’ve had that since then.
Q: As a group you guys have been pretty banged up for most of the year and have had to shuffle the line up a little bit. Have you noticed that this has been a challenging year for Dante Scarnecchia as he tries to shuffle all of those pieces around?
LM: As usual Dante’s done a great job. I think the guys in our room, the guys that Dante has to put up with, it’s always challenging for him, but he’s done a great job. The guys that have played that aren’t starters, they’ve done a great job for us. For us to keep winning games and those guys playing good, it says a lot about them.
Q: When you beat a team like you did Houston earlier in the season, is there a psychological advantage or is there more risk associated with how that might carry over?
LM: I guess there could be some risk, but our coaches, Bill has so much experience of being through pretty much every situation, that he’s not going to let us take them for advantage. They’re a good team, we know that, we’ve seen what they’ve done all year; we got the better of them the first game, but we know we’re going to have to play very well to win this game.
Q: Coach Belichick said earlier in the week that lessons can be learned from what happened in 2010 when you beat the Jets in December and then lost in the playoffs. Do you look back at past playoff situations and what you can learn from having the bye week, not having the bye week, playing a team that you have already played in the regular season and figuring out how you can use that to your advantage going into the next game?
LM: Oh yeah, 2010 is a good example. Beat the hell out of the Jets and then come back and lose to them. Then last year we beat Denver and they come here and we beat the hell out of them. So it can go either it, it’s just what you do on that Sunday. If you execute and play good football, you give yourself a chance to win.