Football and Dane Fletcher didn’t seem like the best match.

Hockey was his first choice. He didn’t get drafted in the NFL. He spent all last season on injured reserve with the New England Patriots after hurting his knee in the first quarter of the first exhibition game.

There were times when the light at the end of his long rehabilitation tunnel seemed pretty dim.

‘‘It always seems like that’’ Fletcher said. ‘‘Finally I see the light and it’s exciting just to get back on the field again.’’

Healthy once more the second-string middle linebacker will play in his third exhibition game Thursday night against the Lions in Detroit. And he has a better idea of what to look for after having plenty of time to study film while recovering from surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

‘‘I just dedicated myself to stay positive stay motivated and take as much as you possibly can out of it when you’re not on the field’’ Fletcher said. ‘‘I probably learned a lot more about the game than I probably would have known if I was out on the field.’’

Fletcher isn’t about to replace Brandon Spikes as the starting middle linebacker. But he could contribute on passing downs since Spikes specializes in stopping the run. Fletcher also is a solid special teams player — and it was on special teams that he sustained his injury.

It happened against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 9 2012 as he was running to cover a punt.

‘‘I knew right away’’ Fletcher said. ‘‘Now I'm so focused on the now and I'm just excited.’’

In this year’s opening exhibition game Fletcher played 37 snaps on defense the second most of any Patriots linebacker in a 31-22 win over the Eagles in Philadelphia. He had four tackles on the night. Last week he was on the field for only 12 snaps in s 25-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but made three tackles.

‘‘While everybody else was playing he was working hard in the weight room and rehabbing’’ coach Bill Belichick said. ‘‘He had a full spring (to work out). Fortunately for this year the injury occurred early last year so he had almost a full calendar year to rehab it.’’