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Trust exercise: Veteran Tommy Kelly faces next step of rehab process

07.29.14 at 2:00 pm ET

FOXBORO — Tommy Kelly knows that at this point in the process, it’s all about trust.

The 33-year-old defensive tackle, who suffered a season-ending knee injury just five games into the 2013 season, is back in pads for the first time since he went down last October against the Bengals. But he acknowledged after Tuesday morning’s session at Gillette that when it comes to getting all the way back, he needs to prove himself again in the eyes of his coaches and teammates.

“To me, it’s all about gaining their trust. Getting that trust back,” he said. “That’s the only thing I would try and do — just assure Bill [Belichick] and assure [head trainer Jim Whalen], ‘Baby, I’m ready to go.’ They want to do it the way they want to do it, and I’m going to do it exactly the way they want to do it with no problem.

“You have to gain their trust back. I have to get to the point where [Jerod] Mayo knows if he calls a certain call, I’m going to be where I need to be. Or if [defensive coordinator] Matt [Patricia] is going to make a call or Bill, you know what I’m saying? That’s all I’ve been trying to do — just go out there and just practice as hard as I can and show them I don’t have any restrictions on nothing. I can do anything you need me to do. But it’s a process, and I’m going to do the process.”

Of course, Kelly has some experience in this area. In 2007, he suffered another serious knee injury that limited him to seven games. He said Tuesday he knows what’s it’s been like to travel to that “dark place” where an athlete can start to let doubt creep in. But to this point in his rehab, while he understands that’s it’s better to take it too slow than too fast, he said every step in his return has been “positive” when it comes to creating an optimal outcome for his return.

“At the end of the day, [the team is] looking out for your best interest,” he said. “But you know, I’€™m a vet — I want to get out on the field. I’€™m the type of guy that I can’€™t roll out of bed and my game’€™s going to be great. I have to go out there every day and work on my hands, work on my get-out, work on my explosion, read my keys, so I’€™m the type of guy, I love practice.”

As for the traditional rehab process, it will occasionally involve two steps forward and a step back. But Kelly said he doesn’t have time for that.

“Oh noooooo — we don’€™t plan on taking any steps back, baby,” he said. “We’€™re planning on taking one, two, three steps forward.

“But at the same time, I’€™m just trying to get Bill’€™s trust, get Matty P’€™s trust, get Mayo’€™s trust, get [Vince Wilfork‘s] trust [and] get back in that good position.”

Kelly doesn’t seem to have any fears about regaining his old spot in the lineup. While he wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s secure with his standing on the roster — “Here, you can’t be secure with anything,” he said with a smile — he did say he’s confident about returning to his old form.

“I believe in myself a whole lot and I know what I can do, so I don’t really worry about [competition],” he said. “I know if I can just go out there and be Tommy and play hard as I can, I’ll be fine. I just try and go out there and get better and better and push myself.

When the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder first signed with the Patriots last offseason, he welcomed the chance to get out of Oakland and play for a team that had a genuine shot to go deep into January. (In his nine seasons with the Raiders, he had never played on a team that had finished better than .500, let alone reached the postseason.)

But now, that desire to win has been compounded by the wish to show people that he can still be the same sort of disruptive presence he showed himself to be at the start of the 2013 season, when he had 2 1/2 sacks and six quarterback hits in limited action.

“I’ve never been a weak link in my career, and I’m not going to start being a weak link,” he said. “So I’ve been working my tail off every day and rehabbing on the side with my conditioning to make sure when it’s time for me to get out there, they see the same player when I left against Cincinnati — a better player. I’m not trying to come back and be the player that I was. I’m trying to come back and be a better player than I was.

“This is a very hard team to make, so if you don’t go out there and put it on the line every day, you ain’t going to be here. Simple as that.”

Read More: 2014 training camp, Bill Belichick, Tommy Kelly,



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