FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Junior Seau has a cast wrapped in black tape on his right forearm, the same arm he had raised to salute cheering fans minutes after he broke it.
As he walked off the field that November day, the 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker didn't know if he'd ever walk back on it in a uniform again.
``You never know,'' Seau said, sweating after a practice with the Patriots this week. ``I didn't want to take it for granted and let that pass without saying 'thank you.'''
Barely seven months later, he completed the three-day minicamp with New England on Thursday with few apparent restrictions. He chased ball carriers, covered receivers and shared the knowledge he has gained in his 17 NFL seasons with younger players.
``The arm is great,'' Seau said. ``I have a cast on it. We're going to protect it as much as possible and we're just going to roll the dice. It's football.''
Seau retired once already. But that lasted just four days before he signed with the Patriots last Aug. 18.
``When a championship team calls, you've definitely got to answer the call and definitely look into it,'' he said then.
Seau played in one Super Bowl, a loss with San Diego, and might have helped New England win another championship - it would have been their fourth in six years - had he not been injured in the 11th game against Chicago.
The Patriots did reach the AFC championship game but lost 38-34 to Indianapolis when the defense couldn't protect a 21-3 lead.
Seau and the Patriots remained in contact and he signed another one-year contract on May 21 - taking a shot at an 18th NFL season at age 38.
A conversation with coach Bill Belichick, he joked, convinced him the team wanted him back.
``Belichick called up and said he loved me,'' Seau said.
His return allows a player just starting his pro career a chance to work with an idol.
Like Seau, who grew up in suburban San Diego, seventh-round draft choice Oscar Lua played linebacker at Southern California. At the minicamp, they lined up side-by-side in practice.
``Any young boy that grew up in Southern California knew who Junior Seau was,'' Lua said. ``I'm in awe half the time in there. I'm trying to just stay on top of my assignments, not to mess up because I've got Junior Seau playing right next to me.''
Seau encourages and teaches him.
``It's surreal to be able to play with him,'' said Lua, a longshot to make a linebacker group filled with outstanding veterans.
Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel are listed as the starting inside linebackers with Seau as a backup. Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas, a free agent from Baltimore, play outside. Seau started 10 of the 11 games he played last season and finished fifth on the team with 70 tackles despite missing five games.
He made the Pro Bowl in 12 of his 13 seasons with San Diego, missing only his rookie year. He spent the next three seasons with Miami then retired - briefly - before joining New England.
He showed he could curtail his roving style to fit in with the Patriots more structured defense.
``I didn't come to prove anything. I just wanted to come help a team win,'' Seau said.
His attitude seems the same even though he may get less playing time since the addition of Thomas gives the Patriots four other accomplished, experienced linebackers.
Still, he said the Patriots were the only team he would come back to play for.
``It's a veteran group and the scheme you have here is definitely something that you have to know, feel and be able to react to quickly,'' he said. ``Having a year under my belt just makes me want to come back even more.''
The sudden end to his 2006 season reminded him that more than a decade of greatness doesn't guarantee that the next day won't be his last in the game.
So he didn't take for granted that things would go smoothly from the time he boarded a plane in California to fly back to the Patriots for a physical.
``You never know what can happen in between times,.'' Seau said. ``I'm in my 18th year and the only way you get there is just playing it day-by-day, play-by-play, and that's what I do.''

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