FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Julian Edelman went from being one of the younger New England receivers to a seasoned veteran.
All it took was one year.
Edelman, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason but opened training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list, was medically cleared to return to action and practiced with the Patriots on Thursday for the first time since fracturing his right foot Dec. 4, 2012 at Miami.
The fifth-year receiver appeared to make it through the two-hour session without any setbacks. He ran sprints, caught passes and even returning a punt in his shoulder pads and helmet.
The only issue, Edelman admitted, was fatigue.
"The duration of practice," he said. "These guys are in shape out here, running around with all this fast-tempo stuff. The train's moving and I've got to catch up."
Edelman underwent a procedure on his injured foot in the offseason, sidelining him longer than he would have liked. Yet he was around the team as much as possible, attending meetings, working with trainers and putting in the work necessary to return to the field.
"You're around the facility and you see all your teammates out there having fun, training camp, guys developing, the team — it was great to be out there and see faces," he said. "(I'm) just focused on coming out here, getting the feet down, running around on the grass, having fun and playing football."
Edelman's return was welcomed by quarterback Tom Brady, especially since his top five targets from last season are either no longer with the team or are injured.
"Tom Brady's Tom Brady," Edelman said. "It's more of me having to work on what I have to work on. The ball's going to be there."
It should be headed in Edelman's direction more this season after a decent effort last year. Edelman hauled in 21 catches for 235 yards and three touchdowns before missing the final four regular-season games.
However, he's now looking at nearly an entirely new cast alongside him.
Wes Welker, who had at least 111 catches in five of his six seasons in New England, signed with Denver during the offseason, Brandon Lloyd (74 receptions last season) is no longer with the team, tight end Ron Gronkowski (55) is on the PUP list after undergoing back surgery in mid-June, tight end Aaron Hernandez (51) was released following a murder charge against him, and running back Danny Woodhead (40) signed with San Diego.
At the age of 27, Edelman now is one of the elder statesmen in the passing attack, and with five rookies among the 12 receivers in camp, his role is certain to change.
"If they ever have a question, they always ask," he said of the younger players. "I try to help them out as much as possible."
New England coach Bill Belichick knows his receiver has a long way to go before making an impact on the field.
"He wasn't able to do much and he hasn't done anything in camp other than work individually with the trainers and stuff. He watches and goes to meetings, but he can't participate in anything. I certainly don't think it puts him ahead," Belichick said. "We've got other guys that are out there working, playing, practicing.
"He's got some ground to make up. We'll see how it goes."
Edelman declined to speculate on the possibility of playing a bigger role in the offense in the wake of so many departures. He is simply concentrating on making the team.
"I'm not really thinking about that right now," he said. "I'm just trying to work on my fundamentals, develop my game individually so I can help contribute to this team.
"Obviously it's new right now, so I definitely have to get my legs under me, work my way in and try to earn a spot."