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Light looks ready for heavier load

After a five-game absence, Matt Light’s return to action Monday night gave the Patriots offensive line some stability. After a five-game absence, Matt Light’s return to action Monday night gave the Patriots offensive line some stability. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 5, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Leave it to Logan Mankins. In his fifth season as the Patriots left guard, Mankins has been a steady sidekick to left tackle Matt Light. So there was no one better suited to appraise how Light looked in his return to action in Monday night’s game in New Orleans after the nine-year veteran missed the previous five games because of a right knee injury suffered in Denver Oct. 11.

“He looked all right,’’ Mankins deadpanned yesterday in the locker room. “He was big, fat, and ugly still.’’

Was Light, then, a welcome sight for the offensive line?

“Oh, yeah,’’ Mankins replied, turning serious. “It was good to have him back. We really appreciate the stuff Matt does out on the field, so it was nice having him back out there.’’

It was a sentiment echoed by quarterback Tom Brady, who was happy to have his blindside protected again by Light after rookie Sebastian Vollmer filled in admirably during Light’s absence.

“Matt’s been a very consistent, durable player for us,’’ Brady said. “It was a tough injury he had against Denver, but he doesn’t seem to miss much of a beat. He came out there and played a great game when Sebastian was out, so we have some good depth there at tackle and not a lot of teams have that kind of depth and we’re going to need everybody.’’

Light’s return came in the nick of time for the Patriots, who have had to deal with a number of injuries to the offensive line. Two weeks ago, Vollmer suffered a head injury in a 31-14 victory over the Jets. The impressive rookie sat out Monday night’s game and was listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game in Miami along with right tackle Nick Kaczur (knee), right guard Stephen Neal (ankle), center Dan Koppen (knee), and Light, who appeared no worse for wear after he engaged in limited participation in yesterday’s practice.

“It was good being back out there,’’ Light said. “I felt pretty good.’’

Asked if he had lingering concerns about his knee when he suited up against the Saints, Light replied, “Nah, at this point, you’re not going to go out there if you’re not ready. I felt pretty good about it. It’s like riding a bike. You get back up and you keep pedaling.’’

Light took the same approach when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury three games into the 2005 season.

“I mean, any time you have an injury on the field, it’s never fun,’’ he said. “It’s part of the game and you deal with it, and you take the steps you need to take to get back out there and move on. Some [rehabs] are longer than others, but it’s never a pleasant time.

“It’s just part of being a pro.’’

There was some speculation Light would be working from the right side upon his return, especially after Vollmer’s impressive five-game apprenticeship at left tackle. But coach Bill Belichick said a few weeks ago that was not likely after briefly experimenting with Light at right tackle during his rookie season in 2001.

“That’s where I brilliantly put him when we drafted him and he’s played left tackle ever since,’’ Belichick noted. “Had I not put him at right tackle in the first place, he probably would have been a lot better off. He came in, we put him at right tackle, he hurt his ankle in preseason. We ended up moving him back to left tackle and he basically started most of his rookie year there at left tackle.’’

In his second game back, Light will probably be tested by veteran pass rushers Jason Taylor and Joey Porter, who was thwarted from making a single tackle in the Patriots’ 27-17 victory over the Dolphins Nov. 8 at Gillette Stadium. Porter was listed on the Dolphins’ injury report as questionable with a knee injury.

“That was mostly the tackles,’’ Mankins said. “They did a good job that day. They played with good technique and they were on him when they were supposed to be, so if we could do that again, that would be nice.’’

Despite dealing with numerous bumps and bruises, the Patriots’ offensive line has managed to hold the line, allowing 16 sacks through 11 games, the third fewest in the league. Light said it was a testament to the work offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has done with the reserves.

“Dante does a great job of preparing them and staying on ’em,’’ Light said. “They do a great job of getting themselves ready to go and have pretty much filled in without any major glitch.’’

Said Mankins, “They do what they’re asked when they come into the game. They know all their plays and they know what techniques to use, so when they come in, we feel there shouldn’t be much of a drop-off.’’

There shouldn’t be any now that Light has returned.

To hear Mankins describe it, it was a sight for sore eyes.

“It’s always good to get a guy back who’s been out there for so long and you’ve played together with for a long time,’’ Mankins said. “Yeah, we know what each other is doing the majority of the time, so we don’t have to communicate quite as much as when someone else is in there, so that’s nice to have. But he’s done a good job for a long time and it’s good to have him back there.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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