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Ready Bruschi

Linebacker will practice with Patriots tomorrow

FOXBOROUGH -- Team meetings: been there. The conditioning run: passed. Complete medical clearance from a cadre of doctors: received.

Tomorrow, the man who lost his vision and could barely walk eight months ago will reach another milestone in his recovery from the stroke he suffered Feb. 15: practicing with his Patriots teammates.

''Here I am," said Tedy Bruschi yesterday, as he appeared at Gillette Stadium in a blue workout shirt, blue shorts, and white sneakers, with a silver cross around his neck. ''Here I am. I fully anticipate to practice [tomorrow]."

Here, on the eve of a return to cracking heads with the teammates he has cheered from the sideline all season, is a place the Pro Bowl inside linebacker didn't anticipate revisiting. Bruschi started the season on the physically unable to perform list, an accurate description of someone who in the days following his stroke could barely complete everyday tasks, let alone launch himself into an opposing wide receiver.

''There were times in my mind that I thought I was done," said the 32-year-old Bruschi. ''I can't see. I can barely walk. How am I going to play football again? That's the way I felt."

But over the summer, Bruschi's condition improved with regular visits to Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and Gillette Stadium, where he worked with the Patriots' medical staff. Six weeks after the stroke, Bruschi passed a field-of-vision test, indicating that he didn't have to worry anymore about his greatest fear: losing his sight.

His strength returned, and he was able to sprint, leap, and lift weights. He appeared fit yesterday, proclaiming that he was near his most recent playing weight of 247 pounds.

He consulted with his physicians, including Dr. David Greer, the stroke neurology specialist who first put his hand on Bruschi's shoulder at Massachusetts General Hospital in February and informed the linebacker that he had suffered a stroke.

Bruschi also cited a breakfast at a favorite North Attleboro joint with his wife, Heidi, when they discussed his progress and how his doctors didn't think there was a reason he shouldn't return to football. After numerous assessments of his health, Bruschi decided it was time to return to practice, and he assured fans that his decision was anything but hasty or ill-informed.

''I can't express to [fans] enough how we've had the same concerns," said Bruschi, who relayed his thanks for the many e-mails, letters, and flowers sent to his home. ''We've had the same questions, myself and Heidi. We've gone through everything. That's why we've seen so many people.

''There's a man upstairs [Robert Kraft] who says, 'Measure nine times and cut once.' He's told me this throughout the process. We've measured a lot of times. We've checked and checked and checked, then said, 'OK, let's check another time.' We wanted to be sure. Unanimously, every doctor and physician that's seen me has given me clearance.

''I'm not just doing this just because it's, 'I just want to play. I just want to play. Forget it, I'm going for it.' I'm not just doing that. This isn't something you just go for. This is something where you make sure everything's right.

''Come on. I lost my sight. One day you wake up and you can't see your sons very clearly because you've had a stroke. You can't walk right. Two days before, you just played in a football game. Now you can barely go down the steps. Two days before, you're making tackles in the Pro Bowl, and all of a sudden, with the vision on your left side, you can't see your hand right here.

''It was a traumatic experience. There's still a long road back. I'm not going to jump into something without being absolutely 100 percent positive. And I am."

Bruschi's return comes at a time when New England's defense has been wilting. The 3-3 Patriots are allowing 27.3 points and 353.3 yards of total offense per game. Inside linebackers Monty Beisel and Chad Brown, playing for the first year in New England's system, do not have the experience and playmaking ability of Bruschi and Ted Johnson, who retired before the season.

Not only does Bruschi have nine years in New England -- the last five under Bill Belichick -- but he's equipped with explosiveness, instincts, and a turbocharged motor. Last season, his first as a Pro Bowler, Bruschi had 128 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions in the regular season. In the postseason, he picked off one pass and recovered two fumbles.

Belichick declined to comment on the linebacker's return when he met with the media because Bruschi had not made his appearance yet.

On WEEI later yesterday afternoon, Belichick said, ''I think it's great. Tedy's come a long way in the last six months or whatever it's been."

Belichick said that if Bruschi practices tomorrow, the Patriots have 21 days to determine whether he can be activated onto the 53-man roster. If they determine that he is not ready to play by that time, the linebacker would be placed on injured reserve.

When asked if he might be ready for the Patriots' next game, against Buffalo Oct. 30, Bruschi said he is just excited to practice.

Bruschi also said that the stumbling defense and the numerous injuries -- to Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, and seemingly everyone in the secondary -- did not play a part in his decision.

''I couldn't let how the team was doing affect my mind-set on my rehabilitation, because I had to take it upon myself that my rehabilitation and getting myself 100 percent healthy has to be first and foremost before the team," Bruschi said.

''I couldn't let Rodney getting hurt affect me. I couldn't let any type of loss affect me. There was no way I was going to be able to help them anyway if I wasn't able to perform at the level I felt I was capable of."

When Bruschi puts on the pads and helmet tomorrow, he doesn't expect his teammates to go easy on him for fear of causing him more harm.

''If they do, they're just going to have to watch themselves in practice," he warned.

As of tomorrow, Bruschi, a spokesman for the American Stroke Association, won't be just a recovering victim anymore.

''I'm a football player," Bruschi said. ''Playing the game is the most fun thing about it. There's meetings, practices, and training sessions you have to go through, but playing football and being part of this team -- this New England Patriot team -- is something I feel really special about.

''The game. The game is what I missed."

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