DAVIE, Fla. (AP) - Miami Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert sounded a tad rusty moments before his first full practice in 9½ months.
"I'm just a puzzle in the big picture," he said.
Albert may have misspoke, but he's actually correct. At 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, coming off reconstructive knee surgery, he's a big question mark for the Dolphins.
He was cleared to practice wire to wire Tuesday for the first time since being sidelined in Week 10 last season with a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Albert declined to say how soon he expects to play in a game, but while he's unlikely to suit up for Saturday's exhibition against Atlanta, he appears on schedule to make the season opener Sept. 13.
Albert wore a brace on his knee for Tuesday's workout in pads and shorts.
"I'm back doing everything with the team," he said. "I'm a little nervous, because I haven't played in a while. But I'm tired of watching. I just want to be out there with my teammates. It has been a long time coming."
Albert's return lends stability to a line that remains unsettled at both guard spots and is viewed as the weak link in a potentially potent offense. The eighth-year veteran made the Pro Bowl with Kansas City in 2013, and was perhaps the Dolphins' best offensive player last season until he was hurt.
"That was my first injury," he said. "I didn't understand why it happened to me. But things happen. I had to get over it and be a professional about it and move on. Now I'm here nine months later almost on the brink of playing again, and that is all that matters."
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill grinned when asked about Albert's return. In the past three years, Tannehill has been sacked an NFL-high 139 times, and he would prefer knowing his blind side is in capable hands.
"Obviously Branden is a great player," Tannehill said. "He had a great career in Kansas City, and lived up to that last year before he unfortunately had the injury.
"He has been battling his way back all offseason. I was here in the building in February and March and he was in here grinding away. I respected that, and I'm excited for him to be able to get back out there."
Albert's return is especially timely because his backup, Jason Fox, is sidelined after suffering a possible concussion in Saturday's exhibition game at Carolina.
Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner are the front-runners to start at guard. Albert said they've done a good job in training camp and will improve, but he declined to predict what kind of line Miami will have.
"I can't tell right now," he said. "Time will tell."
And Albert's health will be a determining factor.
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