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Dancing around issue

Hostilities from San Diego game are now out of step

Any lingering resentment over Ellis Hobbs mocking Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman's "Lights Out" dance after the Patriots' 24-21 victory over San Diego in the AFC Divisional playoffs last season appears to have gone the way of the dance itself. Merriman said before the season he was shelving his seizure-like sack celebration.

At the time, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers called Hobbs the "sorriest cornerback in the league," and running back LaDainian Tomlinson said the Patriots showed "no class, and it comes from the head coach."

But Hobbs, who was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his record-setting 108-yard kickoff return last Sunday in the win over the Jets, apologized through the media during the offseason, and yesterday Merriman made light of the situation.

"I was furious, but not because he did it . . . but because it just looked terrible," said Merriman. "That really got under my skin a little bit. At least if you're going to do it, look at some film and kind of watch how I do it. I was over that. I'm sure a lot of people are over that and are ready to move on to this game."

Hobbs, who said he knows San Diego punter Mike Scifres and linebacker Tim Dobbins, showed Rivers similar forgiveness. "You have to be a professional about it and understand it was a very emotional game and words are said and some words aren't meant to be said," said Hobbs. "There are some things I wish I hadn't done in that game, but you know, we're moving on and it's 2007, so we have to play this year."

Best foot forward
Second-year tight end David Thomas, who opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list after breaking his foot in the Patriots' offseason program, appears to be inching closer to a return.

"It feels good to get back out there on the practice field and I look forward to getting back on the game field, whenever that is," said Thomas, who is participating in practice for the second straight week.

Tackling tough job
The offensive line will have its hands full with Shaun Phillips and Merriman. The outside linebackers combined for 28 1/2 sacks last season, with Merriman leading the league with 17. Each had a sack when the Patriots and Chargers met in the playoffs.

"It affects everything when you have premier rushers," said left tackle Matt Light. "You've got to block them and you're not going to be able to block them all day. They're great at what they do and they're going to get uncovered and they're going to make some plays."

Quite an endorsement
Tom Brady
, in his conference call with the San Diego media, praised wide receiver Randy Moss for fitting in. "I think he's been a great teammate," said Brady. "What a Patriot is all about is someone who loves playing football, who puts the team first, works hard, speaks for themselves. That's exactly what he does. He's a prototypical Patriot player. We all love having him here. We love having all the new guys we got."

Feeling the pain
The Patriots listed four players on their injury report, including defensive end Jarvis Green (shoulder), an addition from last week. An injury to Green would test the Patriots' depth at defensive end, which already has taken a hit with Richard Seymour on the PUP list with a knee injury.

Back in no time
Veteran linebacker Chad Brown, who was re-signed Tuesday, said he had a feeling he would be back. Brown is assuming his role will be "the same as it was in training camp - outside linebacker, special teams, nickel [defense], and helping out at the other linebacker spots." . . . Linebacker Mike Vrabel was asked if the spying allegations against the Patriots, which according to a New York Daily News report yesterday were a result of Jets coach Eric Mangini trying to catch his old team in the act, would change the relationship some players have with Mangini. "I guess we'll find out the next time we play them. Unless he's coaching for the Chargers, which he's not, I don't plan on seeing him this weekend," said Vrabel.

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