TE Ballard lightens his load

FOXBOROUGH -- When tight end Jake Ballard was with the New York Giants in 2010 and 2011, he said he weighed 278 pounds, which made him one of the heaviest tight ends in the NFL.

Ballard, now with the Patriots as he attempts to return to action from serious knee surgery in 2012, has dropped to 260.

“I feel like I’ll be able to compete in the blocking game at 260. I don’t think I necessarily need to be 278,” Ballard said Saturday after the team’s second training camp practice. “The lighter I am, the better it is for my knees and the more flexible I become. As long as I just try to stay lean and stuff, I think that’s the best option.”

Sunday will give Ballard a feel for the blocking game, as it will be the Patriots’ first practice with full contact in full pads. He’s looking forward to it after missing all of last season.

“To see where I left off about a year and a half, two years ago, I probably have a lot to clean up -- hands and feet [technique-wise],” he said. “But the only way to get better is to get out here and do it.”

As for the running aspect of things, Ballard was never considered a burner. But those who watched him with the Giants noted his knack for finding openings in tight spaces, which turned him into a go-to target for quarterback Eli Manning in 2011.

Of course, Patriots followers need no reminder of that, as Ballard caught the winning touchdown pass in a 24-20 win over New England at Gillette Stadium (speedy linebacker Tracy White in coverage).

Running-wise, Ballard said he’s not sure he’ll ever feel as good as he did before his surgery (ACL and microfracture), but he has noticed improvement over the course of the year.

“I definitely feel a lot better than I have, especially better than [organized team activities]. I feel like I’m running smoother and picking up a little bit more speed,” he relayed.

That seemed to show up Saturday when Ballard threatened the defense up the left seam, and quarterback Tom Brady delivered a laser in his direction. Everything about the play looked good, except the end result -- Ballard was unable to corral the pass, tipping it, and safety Devin McCourty came away with the interception.

“I made my read, made my cut, and as soon as I made my cut, the ball was there. I didn’t close my hands fast enough, it popped up and right to Dev,” Ballard said. “Definitely can’t let that happen again. Especially if you don’t catch the ball, make sure no one else catches the ball.”