FOXBORO, Mass. — With the Patriots practicing goal-line situations during Friday morning's practice, linebacker Tyrone McKenzie stormed through a gap and torpedoed Laurence Maroney, implanting the running back into the turf and drawing a rousing ovation from the crowd of nearly 7,000 fans.
It was the closest thing to game action McKenzie has felt in about 20 months. He missed his entire 2009 season after suffering a knee injury during the second day of rookie camp, and the last couple of days have been the first time McKenzie has played in front of a crowd since he was a senior at South Florida in December 2008.
"Just getting out here with the guys, that was the most exciting part," McKenzie said. "Being out here sounds good, but to be out here with the guys on the grind, trying to get better each day, that?s the best part."
McKenzie ripped off his helmet in celebration after unloading on Maroney, a sure sign of the fire and passion he's been known to display on the field. Yet, the impressively mature 24-year-old remained humble when discussing the marquee play of Friday morning's session — and maybe the most memorable defensive play of the Patriots' first three training camp practices.
"I'm just going to come out here every day and try to work hard," said McKenzie, who averaged 118.5 total tackles per season in his two-year career at USF. "You could sit there and try to get a hit [then] mess up on something else. That was just one play. You have to be consistent with what you do every day, so that?s all I'm trying to do right now."
McKenzie has shown a strong ability to get to the ball during his chances in practice. He has spent the majority of his snaps at inside linebacker alongside Brandon Spikes, although McKenzie has gotten a few chances to line up with starter Jerod Mayo, too.
McKenzie, an obvious tackling machine, has untapped potential and could turn into a very good player for the New England defense. For now, though, he's still trying to get everything back together after losing a year of football.
"My body is getting used to hitting again," McKenzie said. "I think it's just natural. I've been playing football since I was 9. Just getting out here, working hard every day, that?s part of the game."