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Bill Belichick sounds optimistic note on Will Smith, but says he ‘still has some rehabilitation do do’

05.12.14 at 1:39 pm ET

The Patriots added veteran defensive end Will Smith earlier this month, but it sounds like the former New Orleans lineman is still rounding into shape after spending almost a year on the shelf because of a knee injury.

The 32-year-old Smith is coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him for the bulk of the 2013 season. The Ohio State product, who has 67.5 career sacks, has spent 10 seasons in the NFL, all with the Saints, before signing a new deal with New England.

On Saturday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick indicated Smith “still has some rehabilitation to do,” but he sounded an optimistic note about his chances to make a significant contribution in 2014, comparing him to Tommy Kelly.

“We feel like that’€™s coming along, going in the right direction — we’€™ll see how it all turns out,” Belichick said when asked about Smith. “It’€™s different, but similar, to Tommy Kelly‘€™s situation last year. Tommy wasn’t coming off an injury last year like Will is this year, but similar [in that he’s a] productive player that we feel like still has some good football left, but is probably in the back half of their career.”

If Smith is healthy, he projects as possibly filling the role of situational pass rusher, one that had been occupied by Andre Carter the last few seasons. But Belichick said there’s a long way to go between now and the start of the season, and Smith has some work to do before he can get to that point.

“We’€™ll see where Will is able to get to. He’€™s got a lot of experience — he’s got a lot of production throughout his career,” Belichick added. “I think he’€™ll be competitive, but we’€™ll have to see how he rehabs from the injury. But we’€™re optimistic that he’€™ll be on the field and be able to compete at some point. He’€™s not ready right now, but I think he will be.”

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