Patriots’ Leigh Bodden Set to Return From Injury as Seasoned Veteran in Young Secondary

BOSTON — Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden missed last season with a shoulder injury, and he watched a flurry of young defensive backs grow up from the sidelines. So much so, that when Bodden returns, he’ll feel like Father Time.

"Yeah, those guys are 22, 23, 24," Bodden said. "I remember those days. I was that guy. I’m now seasoned, but I still feel young."

Bodden will turn 30 in September, and he is at least two years older than every other defensive back on the roster. The Patriots had 35 defensive players on the season’s final roster — 25 on the active roster and 10 on injured reserve — and Bodden was the sixth oldest among that group. That really says more about the Patriots’ overall youth than Bodden’s age, though.

Bodden is expected to play a key role again in 2011. He’s got the most lucrative contract in the secondary, and he should be the starter at right cornerback when the teams return for training camp. Devin McCourty (24 years old in August) will start on the left side , while Kyle Arrington (25 in August), Darius Butler (25 next week) and Jonathan Wilhite (27) will serve as a solid contingent of backups.

Due to their rising play in 2010, there is more optimism surrounding New England’s young cornerbacks at this point than there was a year ago. Bodden, the veteran in the middle of it all, enjoyed watching his teammates develop in 2010.

"It was great," Bodden said. "I knew it would be good for them to experience being on the field, and it was great to watch them. It’s going to be great to join them. I just want to get back on the field and help them and help the team in any way that I can."

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