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Patriots notebook: Gronkowski practices, calls it 'significant'

by | CBSSports.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski took to the practice field Thursday for the first time since injuring his left ankle in the AFC title game. He's been held to a limited role since.

Being able to hit the field, even in a limited fashion felt like an important piece of the recovery process for the all-everything tight end.

"It's definitely huge, significant," he said. "Obviously I want to get out there, I want to get some practice in before the Super Bowl. I want to do as much as possible, whatever I can do before the game. We'll see how I am feeling, talk to the training staff, talk to the coaches, put it all together."

He wore a removable boot for a week before discarding it Monday. Teammates had expressed confidence that he would be ready for the game against the New York Giants on Sunday. Gronkowski, who set an NFL single-season record for tight ends with 17 touchdown catches, missed two practices last week and two more Monday and Wednesday. The Patriots did not practice Tuesday.

"He did some things. He didn't do everything," coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll see how he is (Friday). I think that will be the big key."

Gronkowski, who set an NFL single-season record for tight ends with 17 touchdown catches, took part during the second half of the nearly two-hour practice for Sunday's championship game against the New York Giants.

"It was fine," Belichick said, "It was a good test for him, too, at least. At least he was out here and did some things to see how it feels. We'll see how it goes."

Mayo's demanding role

When evaluating linebacker Jerod Mayo at Tennessee, Bill Belichick observed numerous attractive characteristics. Mayo was active with a nose for the football in leading the Southeastern Conference in tackles his final season.

His 4.6-second 40-yard dash time allowed him to fly sideline to sideline with rare speed for a linebacker.

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Through all the workouts, meetings and tests, it's what Belichick and his staff didn't see that elevated him to the All-Pro level he currently resides at manning middle linebacker for New England.

"What we didn't see much of in college, that has been extraordinary, has been his leadership, dedication and work ethic," Belichick said. "He really is one of our best leaders on the team, and that would start the first day of our offseason program and end on the last day of the season. He sets the pace."

Mayo lives the motto of first one in, last one out. Of course, that's as much by necessity as dedication. Making every call, check and adjustment for one of the most complex, multi-dimensional defenses in the NFL requires more than a glance at the playbook.

Belichick refuses to leave any defensive wrinkles in the bag and thanks to the development of Mayo physically and mentally, he doesn't have to. The defense moves from Belichick's mind to Mayo's mouth on to the field.

"It's tough, it just takes more time in the playbook, to be honest with you," he said. "But at the same time, it's a welcome challenge. We are a very multiple defense; we change every week. I like it."

No amount of bench press reps or sprints can prepare a player to handle that kind of task. Only time and effort. For a guy with all the physical tools like the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Mayo, it provided the final piece of the puzzle. He became the first player in franchise history to notch four consecutive 100-tackle seasons in his first four years. His 193 tackles in 2010 were the most by any Patriots player since 1984.

"He will know the most about all of our calls and adjustments on defense as Tom [Brady] does on offense," Belichick said. "The game runs through him."

It will again Sunday. And in the brightest spotlight the sport offers, his presence will be of added importance on a team with only one defensive player remaining from the last Patriots Super Bowl team (Vince Wilfork).

No chatter

The words of Giants defensive end Chris Canty circulated through the Patriots media session Wednesday. Earlier in the week he told New York fans to "get ready for a parade."

Of no surprise to anyone, the Belichick-led Patriots weren't taking the verbal bait.

"We're not going to say anything," linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "We're just going to play."

My bad, Buffalo

On Wednesday, Tom Brady made reference to how great his father was traveling around the country with him to youth football camps. In describing the trials, he specifically lamented the less than ideal conditions at Buffalo hotels they stayed at.

"I don't know if any of you guys have ever been to the hotels in Buffalo, but they're not the nicest places in the world," he said.

Well, the Buffalo tourism industry didn't take the joke very well.

"Tom Brady comes to Buffalo once a year, and to pass judgment like that I think is just irresponsible at best," Bryan Drew, general manager of Embassy Suites, told WIVB-TV. "We've got some great hotels, especially here downtown."

Feeling the backlash, Brady was sure to apologize during his Thursday media session.

"I apologize for saying that," Brady said. "Buffalo was tough on us this year in Buffalo. I should have picked a non-NFL city for that [comment]."

Thanks, Giselle

Glamour Boy is here and ready to play in Sunday's Super Bowl. Glamour Wife is out of sight -- unless you count the front page of the New York Post.

Gisele Bundchen landed the one cover she didn't want Thursday after New York's most outrageous tabloid got hold of an email she'd sent to friends and family, asking them to send their "positive energy" to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Not exactly bulletin board material, any of it. But with the Patriots and Giants on their best behavior all week, it had to do. It did.

A copy of the Post made the rounds at the Giants' availability Thursday morning. Brady was asked about it, too, of course, but he says he knew nothing about it.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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