Sports

Dane Fletcher’s mind at work while body rests

FOXBOROUGH — What’s the benefit of having your season end in the first quarter of the opening exhibition game?

“At least it happened early in the year so I have a full year to recover and be back for next year,” linebacker Dane Fletcher said Friday morning in his first locker-room interview since he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament against the Saints Aug. 9. “That’s the way I look at it.”

Fletcher, who is scheduled for surgery next week, still has been coming to meetings to absorb as much pigskin knowledge as he can.

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“You learn so much around here,” said the third-year veteran out of Montana State. “Until I got here I thought I knew football. And then I got here and I didn’t know anything about football.”

For an unsettled day between when the club put him on waivers and then moved him to injured reserve, Fletcher was worried that he wouldn’t be here any longer, even though he figured that no other club wanted a man with a freshly sundered knee ligament.

“I understand why the Patriots did it, but yeah, after you tear your ACL, be on waivers for 24 hours, I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t nervous for 24 hours just for the fact that you might have to pick up and move,” he said. “And that would be a tough transition in that kind of situation.”

Since he’ll be on salary on IR, Fletcher will be able to resume his tutorial while he rehabs. “I look at this in a positive light,” he said. “I just say this is my year to harness in and study the game, and learn from head to toe what I can in one season.”

Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who was cut multiple times by the Saints and Dolphins before finding his star-spangled home, can empathize with his 22 teammates who were released Friday or placed on injured reserve.

“I’ve been there a few times,” said the seventh-year veteran, who was on the golf course when the Patriots called him during the summer of 2009. “I’ve been cut. You just tell those guys, just keep working hard. It’s all about opportunity.”

Ninkovich, who started every game last season, had nothing to worry about when the roster was chopped from 75 to the 53-man limit, but he acknowledged the anxiety in the dressing room as his colleagues awaited the deletions that ended up claiming former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, former Pro Bowler Dan Koppen, sixth-year safety James Ihedigbo, and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, among others. “When you’ve got to cut down the team, it’s definitely not a good day,” Ninkovich said. “A lot of your buddies are going to be leaving, so obviously it’s difficult.”

Chandler Jones, who already had a job sewn up at defensive end, had been encouraging his fellow rookies who might have been fearing the ax.

“No matter what happens there will always be a place for you somewhere else, so just don’t give up on your dreams,” he assured them. “That’s the biggest thing, never giving up.”

Time well spent

With five more practices scheduled before the Patriots fly to Nashville on Saturday, the trimmed-down team will be able to deal with a few items it didn’t have time to focus on during a period of three exhibitions in 10 days. “There are some things that we need to do that are Patriot things that don’t relate to any specific opponent that we play,” said coach Bill Belichick. “Just things that we need to work on that we haven’t been able to do so far in training camp, and then there are other things that we need to work on relative to the early part of our season.” . . . The Titans, who won their final three exhibition outings this summer, have been far from a towering opponent for New England, which has won the last four meetings and 10 of 13. The Patriots hung a 59-0 wipeout on Tennessee in the snow in their last encounter in October 2009, with Tom Brady tossing an NFL-record five touchdown passes in the second quarter.

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