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Vrabel makes poor spectator

Linebacker has to bide his time

FOXBOROUGH -- His availability for Sunday's game at Miami may be "doubtful" -- and from the way it sounds, he's closer to "out" -- but there is no doubting Mike Vrabel's desire to return from a broken right arm suffered in Week 3 against the Jets.

Said Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington after Washington's win over the Patriots the following week, the first of three (and counting) games missed by Vrabel, "I know he would play if he could. His arm must be hanging by a thread for him not to be out there."

You get the sense the pain in Vrabel's arm is minimal compared with the anxiety he's had to deal with as a spectator.

"You want to get back out there as soon as you can," said Vrabel, the Patriots' starting outside linebacker the past two-plus seasons. "Nobody wants to be hurt. That's probably one of the worst parts of this business. Losing is probably No. 1, and No. 2 is being hurt. You really just try to stay positive, you know that injuries happen."

Vrabel has practiced the past two days -- he recently discarded the cast -- but it seems as though he still has a ways to go before he's ready for contact. "It doesn't hurt to run," he said prior to yesterday's workout. "That really was all I did, just see how it felt running around. It felt good just to get out there."

Vrabel, though, knows better than to hurt himself and his team by making a premature return. "I'm just trying to plug away at it and see what I can do, be honest with the training staff and myself," he said. "I'm probably a guy that doesn't always make the smartest decision, but I'm not going to go out there and jeopardize what the team's trying to do just to say that I got back there."

Reserve pause

Asked last week if right tackle Kenyatta Jones, on the physically-unable-to-perform list while rehabbing from double knee surgery in the offseason, would be able to practice this week, Belichick answered, "Kenyatta, I think, will be ready to practice next week, yes." Belichick wasn't fibbing. Jones is ready to practice. He didn't say anything about whether the Patriots would be ready for him.

Jones isn't practicing because teams have a 21-day window, starting with the player's first practice, to decide whether to add him to the active roster or release him. Considering the deadline isn't until Week 12, and with five players on reserve, Belichick feels it better to stagger their starts.

"The sooner you start the clock running, the sooner you have to make a decision," he said. "If we push that starting point back, then we push the final decision point back, too."

Rookie linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who had groin surgery in the summer, began practicing Wednesday, leaving receiver Chas Gessner, guard Stephen Neal, offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski (non-football injury list), and Jones on reserve.

Jones is "really a team decision," Belichick said. "At this point, it's not a physical decision. Part of the problem is if we start everybody at the same time, then they're all up at the same time, and if you want to bring them onto the team, you would have to create, let's say, three or four roster spots in the same week."

Injury status

Fullback Larry Centers (doubtful, knee), tackle Adrian Klemm (doubtful, ankle), receiver Deion Branch (questionable, ankle), special teamer Je'Rod Cherry (questionable, knee), linebacker Willie McGinest (questionable, neck), and cornerback Ty Law (questionable, ankle) did not practice yesterday. The team reported that law also has a rib injury. . . . The Patriots focused on the red zone yesterday. The Dolphins scored on all four trips inside the 20 (three touchdowns, field goal) in last season's 26-13 win at Pro Player Stadium and lead the league in both red-zone offense and red-zone defense. They've had nine touchdowns and two field goals in 12 trips while allowing two touchdowns and six field goals in 15 opponent ventures into their red area. "[It's] a little bit unusual to be on top of the league in both," said Belichick, whose team ranks ninth in red-zone offense and eighth in defense. "It seems like every week it's helped them win . . . keeping people out of there and missed field goals and all of that, and they're getting it in. That's what happened to us down there last year, too, they got down to the red area and they got touchdowns out of all of their opportunities." . . . Miami also is efficient at converting third-and-1 situations. Ricky Williams is 5 for 5, Jay Feidler 3 for 3 . . . Belichick said Banta-Cain has lost weight and added a little quickness since the spring . . . The league fined rookie Dan Klecko $7,500 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Giants quarterback Kerry Collins in Sunday's game.

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