Mankins’s optimism guarded

FOXBOROUGH — Left guard Logan Mankins, who had offseason surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee — an injury he played with last season, including the Super Bowl — said before Thursday’s practice he wasn’t always convinced he’d be healthy enough to play in the season opener.

“Of course,” Mankins said when asked if he had doubts. “I never knew how fast I would heal and everything would progress, but so far it’s been good.”

Mankins’s presence might bring needed stability to an offensive line that doesn’t have Matt Light (retired), Dan Koppen (released), or Brian Waters (has not reported, but has not announced retirement). Major knee surgery isn’t the easiest thing to come back from, especially in such a short time.

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“It was difficult, we’re still only barely past six months,” Mankins said. “We’re still taking it day by day. It still improves every day, so it’s getting better.

“It’s good right now, still getting a lot of ice, trying to take care of it the best I can, and hopefully it feels good all year.”

Mankins was likely aided by the limited exhibition season workload given to many starters, allowing him to ease back into playing condition. With the season opener Sunday at Tennessee, is he ready, and able, to play a 60-minute game?

“It’s a possibility,” he said. “It’s always tough, but it goes for everyone in the league. Not everyone plays a full game in the preseason, so it’s different for everyone.

“Myself, not having too many reps, I just have to trust in my conditioning and hopefully it’s good enough.”

Mankins didn’t have much to say on the empty locker (Waters’s) next to him — “I don’t want to get into that too much. He’s not on the team right now” — but he did take a playful jab at referees, both the regular ones who are locked in a labor dispute with the league, and the replacements who are in use to begin the season.

“We’ve had the normal officials out there and they make bad calls, so if these guys make a bad call, it won’t be different,” Mankins said. “Every time they call a hold on me, it’s never a hold. They must get my number confused.”

He knows what to do

Another player with a limited preseason was Wes Welker, who didn’t catch a pass. He hauled in a league-high 122 last season, though — and he has caught at least one pass in all 84 games he has played with the Patriots — so you know he’ll once again be a primary weapon in the offense.

But would Welker have wanted at least a few receptions during the preseason?

“Football’s football,” he said. “It would have been nice to get a little bit more reps, but at the same time, I’ve been in this offense for a while, I understand it. I know what I need to do, and whatever I need to do from the coach’s perspective to help this team win.” that’s what I’m going to do.”

Not catching any passes in the preseason has some advantages (not getting tackled, and thus reducing the risk of injury), but Welker acknowledged it put a premium on practice time.

Just call him . . .

With a massive media swarm around his locker, Michael Hoomanawanui realized very quickly that he wasn’t in St. Louis anymore. The tight end was signed Wednesday following a very brief stop in Washington after the Rams released him Sunday.

It took four questions before someone asked Hoomanawanui to pronounce his last name. After he said it twice, flawlessly, there was a quick follow up: Might he have a nickname? “Got a couple,” he said. “ ‘Oo-man.’ ‘Uh-oh.’ ”

Whatever he goes by, he’d like to make a name for himself with the Patriots, and he is confident that reuniting with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — whom he played for in St. Louis — will benefit both player and team.

“It helps tremendously, coming in here and being thrown in the fire right away, it definitely helps knowing him, knowing the offense from last year,” Hoomanawanui said. “Little different terminology, but in the end it’s pretty much the same.”

Modell remembered

Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick both had a connection to Art Modell , the former owner of the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens who died Thursday at age 87 (Obituary, B14). Kraft as a fellow owner, Belichick as an employee, since he coached the Browns from 1991-95.

“My time with the Browns was an invaluable period in my career,’’ Belichick said in a statement. “As with any major undertaking, the path had its challenges but by the end of four years we had a winning team, which made the process very rewarding. Unfortunately, we did not complete our task and the ultimate franchise relocation was a very disappointing result.

“In all, I am very grateful to Mr. Modell for providing me my first opportunity to be an NFL coach.

“I learned many things through our personal interactions and have applied many of those lessons in my later years as a head coach.”

Said Kraft, also in a statement: “When I first entered the league, Art was quick to welcome me, and I always appreciated that. He leaves a lasting legacy for the many contributions he made to the National Football League.”

Captains again

After a vote among players, the Patriots will have the same six captains as last season: Tom Brady, Mankins, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty, and Matthew Slater. This is the 11th straight year Brady has been a captain. It’s the fifth consecutive season for Wilfork, third for Mayo, and second for Mankins, Slater, and McCourty.

First aid station

Not much change to the Patriots’ injury report after a practice in shorts and shells, although offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder), who did not practice Wednesday, was able to take part in a limited capacity. Running back Shane Vereen (foot) was the only one not on the field. Tight end Daniel Fells (shin), cornerback Sterling Moore (knee), and tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) were limited, while safety Patrick Chung (shoulder) again participated fully. Four Titans did not practice: defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (knee), tackle Mike Otto (finger/knee), defensive end Scott Solomon (knee), and guard Steve Hutchinson (non-injury-related).