FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was nearly a year ago that Jake Ballard was waived/injured by the New York Giants, with the expectation he would clear through waivers and revert to the Giants' injured reserve list while he rehabbed a major knee injury suffered in Super Bowl XLVI. He admitted as much on Wednesday afternoon.
But in a surprise move, the Patriots claimed Ballard on waivers with an eye toward 2013, and after spending a year rehabbing while learning the playbook, Ballard told reporters he feels like a Patriot.
"Absolutely. The first couple of days it was kind of shocking and abrupt," he said. "I heard [about being claimed] and the next morning I was on a plane to Boston, it was pretty crazy. I'm absolutely a Patriot through and through. I enjoy being here, I enjoy being around the coaches and everybody is great."
While spending a full season away from the practice field is tough for any player, Ballard saw value in having time to absorb a new system and fully understand what would be expected of him when he returned to action.
"I think it helps tremendously," he said of having a year of learning the system under his belt. "My first year I was on the practice squad in New York and I had a chance to study that offense for a year then came out the next year and played. It's kind of like the same thing here, I was watching all of last year and just looking over the playbook and mainly doing rehab, but I got a sense of what the offense was about and now with the OTAs and our meeting sessions, it's really helped a lot.
"The mental aspect of the game is the easy part," he added. "I'm just trying to get out here and feel comfortable again running again, playing with guys I haven't played with and playing against defensive guys I've only played against a couple of times."
Ballard has looked sharp in each of the media-accessible OTAs, showing limited signs of restriction nearly 16 months after originally suffering the knee injury. He's shown reliable hands to go along with his big frame (6-foot-6, 275 pounds), and he should make a difference as a blocker when the pads come on. With Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265 pounds) uncertain for the start of the season, Ballard may be called upon to serve in his role.
The burly tight end said that while he's working toward being back to 100 percent, he's staying within the parameters of what the team's medical and coaching staff have laid out for him while he is on the field.
"I'm doing my best I can to be 100 percent, and I'm doing as much as I can, as much as they're allowing me to do out here," he said. "When I'm out here I feel like I'm putting in good work and getting better."