FOXBOROUGH — It’s a little unsettling when television microphones pick up the screams of an injured NFL player, as some of the biggest, strongest men in sports are cut down while we watch.
Such was the case last October when Miami’s Max Starks rolled into the back of Sebastian Vollmer’s legs while the Patriots right tackle was blocking during a Stevan Ridley run.
Photos show Vollmer’s lower right leg bend unnaturally, and you could hear Vollmer screaming on the CBS broadcast as he pounded the Gillette Stadium turf. He underwent surgery to mend a broken bone the next day, and was out for the remainder of the season.
But Vollmer, who agreed to a four-year contract before last season, has been on the field for the entirety of the organized team activities open to the media the last three weeks, seemingly well on the road back.
“I’m excited to be out there, hanging with my teammates, working on things, trying to get better. It’s been pretty good,” he said after practice Thursday.
It was the first time reporters have had the chance to speak with Vollmer since the injury. He didn’t want to talk too much about what had happened or how much pain he was in.
“Every time you get hurt, it’s not a good thing, you don’t really know what’s happening to yourself,” Vollmer said. “You just take it step by step, go inside, talk to the doctors, do what’s necessary and then work your way [back].
“It’s a strain. Every day, you work, you do rehab, you get better, you get stronger, you’ve done surgery and all that stuff, and looking forward. I’m back out here now, so that’s a good moment for me.”
The German-born lineman, who didn’t want to talk about the World Cup, preferring to stick to American football, was one of several Patriots starters who landed on injured reserve last season. Those players encouraged one another as they worked to get better, and his other teammates were also supportive.
“You spend a lot of time with those guys; you’re in the training room and there’s some other guys in there . . . You’re not by yourself working, there are other guys in there and they’re either rehabbing or they’re working out in the weight room, training room, so it’s always good to see guys and you’re kind of working toward the same goal,” Vollmer said. “It may be eight, 10 months away, but you still have that goal in mind and work hard.”
Asked if he’s gotten used to hearing a different voice — that of new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo — yelling at him during these sessions, Vollmer quipped, “I have a lot of voices yelling at me.”
DeGuglielmo has replaced longtime coach Dante Scarnecchia, who retired.
“You know, it’s like playing with a new player next to you. It’s a little bit of a change, but you get used to it,” Vollmer said. “That’s what we’re doing with this, getting used to each other. He’s coaching us hard and trying to get better.”
Hits are coming
The Patriots will hold mandatory minicamp from Tuesday to Thursday. Count Dont’a Hightower among those happy to strap on pads for three days of workouts.
“Being a linebacker, that’s something that I like to do,” Hightower said. “I’m not a 7-on-7 person; I don’t like to chase Shane Vereen around or anybody like that, so whenever we get the pads on, it gets a little bit more physical. That’s what I like to do.”
Heading into his third season, Hightower believes the on-field work the Patriots have done this spring has helped the defense jell.
“It helps out a lot, especially with some of the younger guys and some of the guys that came along last year, like [defensive tackle] Sealver [Siliga]. He learned a lot, and he knows a lot, but some plays he didn’t get to pick up because he came in a little late,” Hightower said. “But the thing that I want to work on probably the most is having a lot more fun.
“Those last couple of games of the season, whenever I got a lot more comfortable and relaxed, I was just having fun and I played a lot better. So going out, playing stress-free, and [not] worrying about things, I feel like that will elevate my play a lot more.”
There were seven players not spotted on the field Thursday: QB Ryan Mallett, WRs Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell, CB Alfonzo Dennard, and DLs Dominique Easley, Tommy Kelly, and Armond Armstead.
TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Matthew Slater, LB Deontae Skinner, and DB Justin Green made up the rehab group that spent most of the practice inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse. Vince Wilfork and Will Smith practiced for at least half the session before heading to the fieldhouse.
Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo saw a lot of time under center. It was an up-and-down day for the second-round pick, who was more accurate during the earlier part of practice, then had some trouble connecting with receivers during 11-on-11 work.
When the bulk of the team was practicing kickoff returns and kickoff coverage, Garoppolo was on the other field working one-on-one with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. During those periods, Tom Brady worked with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on red-zone routes.
Rookie OL Cameron Fleming has finally joined the Patriots. By NFL rules, he had to wait until his classes at Stanford were done before he could begin practicing . . . The Patriots signed WR Jeremy Johnson Thursday. An undrafted rookie from Southern Methodist, the 6-foot, 179-pound Johnson had 112 catches for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns for the Mustangs last fall.