FOXBOROUGH — Dominique Easley said he felt “like a lost kid’’ during his protracted absence from the football field. The Patriots’ first-round draft choice rediscovered his youthful exuberance for the game when he donned full pads and engaged in 11-on-11 drills Monday.
It marked the first time the University of Florida product had done so since last September when his senior season was limited to three games after he tore his right ACL, a lingering injury that forced him to start training camp on the non-football injury list.
“I haven’t been out there for a long time, so it feels good,’’ Easley said. “I haven’t done that since last September, so I’m just a work in progress and I have to get better every day.’’
Easley, who shined in the pass-rush drills, was joined in his return by tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who also engaged in full-padded work for the first time since injuring his left knee in the first week of camp, and rookie wideout Jeremy Gallon, who came off the PUP list after being medically cleared.
Linebackers Jerod Mayo, who missed three days of practice last week and the preseason game against the Eagles, and James Anderson also returned to full pads as did rookie center Bryan Stork, who had been inactive after participating in the first week of camp.
Easley’s only focus at the start of camp was rehabbing his knee. He participated in conditioning work and absorbed everything he could about the defensive scheme from veteran linemen Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork, both of whom Easley lauded for teaching him “how to be a professional.’’
But there was only so much Easley could glean from the meeting room without being able to go out on the field and put the theory into practice.
“It’s really important, because you’re supposed to know everything before you get on the field,’’ Easley said. “So I’m just learning from Vince and Tommy and everybody else. It’s been a challenge, but I’m just getting into it.
“As far as mentally, I feel good to go. I just have to work in with the team and do what I can for the team.’’
Easley was not certain about his status for Friday’s preseason game against the Panthers.
“I really didn’t have a timetable for myself,’’ he said. “I’ve just been trying to work to get better, that’s all.’’
Ridley stands tall
Steven Ridley did not shrink from the media when asked to address the fumble he committed against the Eagles. It seemed the running back’s absence from the second half of that game was eerily reminiscent of last December when he was a healthy scratch against the Texans after committing multiple fumbles.
“When I go back and watch the play, and the ball is out again, Week 2, it kind of [stinks],’’ Ridley said. “But it’s football, man, and I can’t get down about it. I can’t harp about it. That’s why you have preseason. I’m just going to keep on working and keep on pushing.’’
Ridley’s issues with ball security seemed to rear its ugly head, and he hopes to put that behind him this season. Ridley was not certain the fumble would have been overturned if the Patriots had challenged the call.
“It’s too close to call, man,’’ Ridley said. “Either way, I need to avoid those plays in general. There’s nothing really else to be said about it. I hated it. It was a sick feeling for a second . . . But I’m not going to harp on that. I’m going to learn from it.’’
When Bill Belichick characterized the punting game as “our biggest problem’’ against the Eagles, Ryan Allen knew it would be a point of emphasis in Monday’s practice.
“When things don’t go well in game, it’s obvious that it’s got to be a focal point when you come back out here for practice the next week to correct that and clean it up,’’ the punter said.
Allen’s night was marred by several breakdowns, most notably a blocked punt in the second quarter. The last time the Patriots had a punt blocked was in a 2012 regular-season game against Arizona.
“We obviously have a lot of work to do on the punt team,’’ Belichick said. “Every play was a problem — protection, execution, coverage, lane discipline. I thought we made improvement in the kickoff, kickoff return. We only had one punt return and then missed a field goal. Yeah, [special teams] definitely could be better, no question.
“I’d say the punting game was our biggest problem.’’
Said Allen, “It’s stuff we’ve been good at for a long time and last year we executed at a pretty high level. I just think it’s a matter of looking at what we did and coming out here and fixing it and executing it better in practice.
“Like I said, there’s no excuse for anything that happened and everything needs to be executed at a higher level and I take full [responsibility].’’
No decision on QBs
Belichick played it close to the vest when he was asked about his view of the competition at backup quarterback between Ryan Mallett and rookie Jimmy Garropolo.
“I think they’ve both done good things,” he said.
Asked if he envisioned having a clear-cut No. 2 at some point, Belichick replied, “I think we’ll do what we feel is best for the football team, whatever that is.”Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Michael Vega on Twitter at@MBVEGA.