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Pitoitua on the mend

New York Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha, from

New York Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha, from left, first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson, facing camera, defensive end Jamaal Westerman, Mike DeVito, and Ropati Pitoitua, far right white shirt, stand together, Thursday, June 2, 2011, as a group of players hold an informal practice in Morris County, N.J. Pouha gathered a handful of his Jets defensive linemates at a high school field to go through position drills while the NFL football lockout continues. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mel Evans

Ropati Pitoitua is working his way back.

Pitoitua, recovering from a torn left Achilles, is hopeful he'll soon be able to return to that comfort zone, the one that had Rex Ryan initially drooling during the 2010 preseason about the potential contributions of the 6-8, 315-pounder. 

He was supposed to be a big part of the defensive line rotation, but got hurt in the Jets' second preseason game against the Panthers in Carolina, a season-ending injury that was chronicled by HBO's "Hard Knocks."

"It's feeling good and it's coming along," Pitoitua said, adding doctors told him total rehabilitation of his injury typically takes a year and a half. "I've been rehabbing for the past couple of months, which I've been doing since it happened. I've been running and it feels good."

Pitoitua, 26, hasn't been able to work with team trainer John Melody due to the ongoing lockout, so the third-year pro by way of Washington State has been putting in time in the city with personal trainer Gerry Guerrero. 

"We've been doing similar stuff that I was doing with John -- strength, a little conditioning here and there," he told me during last week's five-player workout in New Jersey. "The last month, we've been doing a lot of stuff on the field football-wise. So it's been really good."

Pitoitua, entering the final year of his contract, said he's getting closer to feeling like himself. But the native Somoan didn't want to put a true percentage on it, admitting he's still got a ways to go and is unsure what the plan will be once training camp begins.

He won't have a true gauge until he takes that first hit.

"Right now, I'd probably just take it step-by-step," he said. "It's been a long time since contact, so whenever I get back to it, I know the trainers -- John and them -- will have a plan for me and I've just got to go with it."

Watching his teammates make a run to the AFC title game without him wasn't easy an thing for Pitoitua to swallow, at times making the mental aspect of the rehab even tougher than the physical.

"I would say for the most part, yes," Pitoitua said. "But the guys, we have a great relationship in the locker room. I'd see them in the locker room, I'd see them in the training room, they'd always picked me up. Just the sense that they are there for me, I try to show it back to them. It's very mental. It took some time, though.

"But I feel good right now."

Good enough to show he's about ready to put his hat back into the line rotation.

"That's the goal," Pitoitua. "For our D-line, there's always somebody that's ready to step up. We have have young guys like [Matt] Kroul, myself and whoever is behind me. I'm just getting ready so whenever the opportunity comes, I can make the most of it."

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