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Bruschi OK after first practice with Pats

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tedy Bruschi lifted both legs far over his head as he lay on his back and stretched. The former Arizona Wildcat chased teammate Mike Vrabel and blocked him playfully in the back. He ran to the next drill.

And he smiled.

For the first time since a minor stroke eight months ago threatened his NFL career, the Patriots’ star linebacker was practicing with his team yesterday.

“I’m back playing the game that I love,” Bruschi said before putting on his shoulder pads and his No. 54 jersey, carrying his helmet out of the locker room and walking into the noon sun.

After practice he said he had some jitters but wasn’t discouraged by what took place.

“If you haven’t done something in a long time, you always have some nerves the first time back,” Bruschi said. “I feel good with my conditioning level. It’s where it needs to be, I think. Game shape is another thing, but we’ll cross that road when we come to it. I thought it was a good day.”

New England is idle this week, so the practice was unusually short, lasting about 75 minutes, with no hard contact between players. Bruschi said he had no pain or discomfort and would try to be ready for the Oct. 30 against Buffalo.

“Today was the first step in my attempt,” he said. “I felt good out there, like I was saying, but I’m not going to make any guarantees or promises (other than) I’m going to give it my best shot.”

The practice was the latest step on the road Bruschi has traveled since Feb. 6, when New England won its third Super Bowl in four years. A week later, Bruschi played in his first Pro Bowl. Three days after that, he was hospitalized after experiencing numbness in his left arm and left leg. Then he had surgery in March to repair a small hole in his heart.

As recently as September, the 32-year-old defensive co-captain said he wouldn’t play this year. But he kept working out in the team’s weight room, running and attending team meetings. He also stood on the sideline during home games.

Then he received medical clearance from several doctors to cross that barrier and play this season.

“I have no type of reservations,” Bruschi said before practice. “I think I’ve done everything that I had to do to make sure that my confidence level is high for when I need to stick my face in there. I’m going to stick it in and I’m going to stick it in hard.”

But the night before his return was restless. He said he didn’t get much sleep. “A lot of things on my mind,” Bruschi said, “a lot of things racing through my mind, but excited.”

Coach Bill Belichick said he wouldn’t wince when Bruschi gets hit on the field.

“Anything any other player would do, that’s what he’s going to do” in practice, Belichick said.

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