Logan Mankins has been a question mark for some time with the Patriots.
New England's perennial Pro Bowl left guard underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, and no one with the Patriots - including Mankins - truly knew how long a recovery process it would take.
As such, the opener at Tennessee has been in doubt for a good long while. Playing, not playing, who knew? But it appears Mankins has finally eased all fears.
''I never knew how fast I would heal and everything would progress,'' he said. ''But so far, it's been good.''
New England has never needed him more, either.
With a handful of familiar faces missing from the offensive line, the Patriots are counting on Mankins to anchor a relatively youthful front five tasked with perhaps the most pivotal role in the league - protecting two-time MVP quarterback Tom Brady.