Bed check: Patriots at Super Bowl, Day 3

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
PHOENIX -- A recap of some of the notable stories surrounding the New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLIX on Wednesday:

Brady turning to garlic and rest to fight cold. Tom Brady has been under the weather but he said he expects to be 100 percent on Sunday. He participated fully in practice.

Stork making progress at practice. Starting center Bryan Stork, who injured his right knee in the divisional-round win over the Ravens, continues to make progress. He "practiced without any apparent setback", according to pool reporter Jarrett Bell. Wednesday marked the Patriots' first practice since arriving in Arizona on Monday.

Catching up with an old friend. With the Patriots practicing at the Arizona Cardinals' home facility, it was a chance to once again work with Matt Caracciolo. New England's director of football operations from 2006-2011, Caracciolo is now the Cardinals' football operations coordinator. "[We have] a good working relationship with him," coach Bill Belichick said.

McDaniels on ineligible receivers. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels touched on the team's usage of ineligible receivers and how it wasn't used with a fast tempo, so defenses had a chance to match it. That runs counter to the opinion of others, such as Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Wilfork sees a softer side of Belichick. Veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said one thing that has changed with coach Bill Belichick is that he shows a softer side a bit more these days.

Some media fatigue setting in. After meeting with reporters once again on Wednesday morning, and the session running for 45 minutes, linebacker Dont'a Hightower said, "I’ve been seeing more of y’all (reporters) and less of coaches, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” The media blitz will continue on Thursday.

Families set to arrive. Many of the players' and coaches' families are scheduled to arrive on Thursday, which adds a layer of excitement to the trip.

Pool report from Patriots practice

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The following is the pool report from New England Patriots practice on Wednesday, as filed by Jarrett Bell of USA Today:

The New England Patriots conducted their first practice since arriving in Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX, a two-hour session on Wednesday that coach Bill Belichick saw as significant for getting his team back on a regular schedule following two days without practices.

“This Wednesday is kind of like a regular Wednesday, tomorrow will be kind of like a Thursday, Friday will be like a Friday,” Belichick said. “So we’re trying to get back on schedule.”

A regular Wednesday practice includes a heavy dose of situational reps, and the Patriots did exactly that while using one of the two grass fields at the Arizona Cardinals training facility on a mild, partly cloudy afternoon with temperatures around 75 degrees.

After extensive individual drills, the work included third downs, red zone snaps and various down-and-distance challenges.

“There’s always things to work on, but we’re grinding away,” Belichick said.

The Patriots installed the bulk of their game plan for Sunday’s game last week while practicing at Gillette Stadium.

“There’s a little bit of refining, but it’s also practicing closer to the game,” Belichick said. “Practicing it two weeks ago and practicing it now, four days before the game, it’s more of our normal timeframe.”

As expected, the Patriots were at full strength in practice from an attendance standpoint. Center Bryan Stork, who didn’t practice when drills began last week while nursing a knee injury, practiced without any apparent setback.

Tom Brady acknowledged early on Wednesday that he’s battling a cold, but looked sharp. Belichick isn’t worried about his condition.

Said Belichick, “He took all the snaps.”

Belichick called the field conditions “great,” yet did tweak the environment as music – rap, rock, hip-hop – blared for an extended portion of the team drills. Belichick typically pipes in noise to help with concentration and communication, but ease up now.

“In this game, you know, it’s kind of a neutral field, so you’ve got to be ready for it,” Belichick said.

The NBC broadcast crew -- including play-by-play man Al Michaels, analyst Cris Collinsworth and sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya – attended the practice.

ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson discusses the schedule of events for the beginning of Aaron Hernandez's murder trial in in Fall River, Massachusetts. Hernandez is charged with killing semiprofessional football player Odin Lloyd.
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- When the New England Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XLIX, one of the most meaningful conversations that special teams captain Matthew Slater had was with his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater. The father-son bond has remained strong and football is a big part of it.

In many ways, Slater would like to win a Super Bowl because he knows what it would mean to his father.

"I know my dad, when he looks back on his career, one of his biggest regrets is not winning the big game," Slater said Wednesday. "He played for 20 years and played in just one Super Bowl and then lost. For me to be here, it feels like he’s here again. It means a lot to our family."

Jackie Slater, a dominating offensive tackle, was part of the Los Angeles Rams team that lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19, in Super Bowl XIV. The Rams had led 19-17 going into the fourth quarter.

“I’ve watched that tape with my dad a dozen times before I was the age of 10 and we’ve talked about them leading in the fourth quarter with 11 minutes to go," Matthew said. " We’ve talked about what went on in that game. He doesn’t need to tell me because I can see it and hear it when he talks about it."

Now in his seventh season with the Patriots, Slater is a perennial Pro Bowler who often is given the responsibility of "breaking the team down" in the locker room after victories. That was a role held by Tedy Bruschi for many years and is only given to the team's most highly-respected players.

Slater, much like his father, is uniquely qualified.

"This game of football has been great to the Slater family. We’re so blessed to be a part of this special game," he said. "It's exciting for both of us that I'm here now."

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for New England vs. Seattle.

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando talks about how the Seahawks have adapted to the NFL's rules on defensive holding and pass interference.
PHOENIX -- New England Patriots starting center Bryan Stork, who injured his right knee in the AFC divisional round playoff victory over the Ravens and missed the AFC Championship Game, remains a limited participant in practice leading up to Super Bowl XLIX.

Stork said this week, "I'm working with the trainers every day, working hard, doing my best and getting better."

Stork started 12 games for the Patriots this season (11 in the regular season, one in the playoffs) as his inclusion into the lineup helped solidify some early struggles for the offensive line. In his absence in the AFC title game, the Patriots shifted veteran Ryan Wendell from right guard to center, and inserted second-year player Josh Kline at right guard.

In addition to Stork, linebacker Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), defensive tackle Chris Jones (left elbow) and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (foot) were the only other players limited.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) was listed as a full participant.

Jeffri Chadiha talks about why LeGarrette Blount has found success in New England after being let go in Pittsburgh.

John Clayton discusses the possible fine Marshawn Lynch could receive, the health of Seattle's offensive line, and Tom Brady showing signs of a cold.

PHOENIX -- Former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake says he oversaw the deflation of footballs on the sideline right before games during his career. Speaking on "The Midday 180" out of Nashville, Blake said the practice was common.

"I'm just going to let the cat of the bag, every team does it, every game, it has been since I played," Blake said. "'Cause when you take the balls out of the bag, they are rock hard. And you can't feel the ball as well. It's too hard. Everybody puts the pin in and lets just enough air out of the ball that you can feel it a little better. But it's not the point to where it's flat.

"So I don't know what the big deal is. It's not something that's not been done for 20 years."

Many other NFL quarterbacks have said the opposite, that they've never messed with the inflation of a ball or seen anyone do so. The topic has come to the forefront with the New England Patriots being investigated by the NFL due to allegations the team used underinflated footballs in the first half of the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Asked to be specific about the timing of deflation, Blake said it regularly happened as soon as quarterbacks got the balls before the game.

"As soon as they give them the balls," Blake said. "On the sideline before the game. The quarterbacks would come out to warm up in pregame ... I would just say, 'Take a little bit out, it's a little bit hard.' And then they'd take a little bit out and I'd squeeze them and say 'That's perfect.' That's it."

Blake played for seven teams in 13 seasons, starting 100 games. His longest tenure was six seasons with Cincinnati.

His last year was 2005, so during his career when his team was on the road, Blake would not have handled the footballs until pregame.

(Read full post)

Richard Sherman on baby watch

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28

PHOENIX -- Richard Sherman isn't just preparing for the New England Patriots this week.

He's getting ready for the birth of his son.

The Seattle cornerback is on baby watch this week. His girlfriend, Ashley Moss, is expected to give birth to their son in the next week. Sherman said Wednesday a recent visit to the doctor gave him faith his son will not arrive in the next few days.

But just in case, Sherman said Moss is in Arizona with Super Bowl XLIX around the corner. If she goes into labor before Sunday, Sherman said the plan is to have her give birth at a local hospital.

But if his son decides it's time to enter the world on Sunday, Sherman may be faced with a career-defining decision.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Sherman said. "We're not thinking about the possibility."

Sherman said he and Moss have picked a name for their son, but he wouldn't divulge it.

"I'm going to pass on telling you," he said with a smile. "We're keeping it a secret from everybody."

During Tuesday's Super Bowl media day, Sherman said knowing his son is on the way will give him an extra degree of motivation Sunday.

"It's someone that actually depends on you for everyday living," Sherman said. "Everything they do is dependent on you and how you provide and how successful you are.

"As a parent, you want to set a great example for them, so I guess, to a degree, a lot of things are riding on it."

(Read full post)

Darrelle Revis bet on himself with contract

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The New England Patriots' 45-minute media session had ended on Wednesday, but one player remained behind to answer some more questions. It was cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Think he's enjoying this Super Bowl experience?

Of course he is, which has been easy to see over the last two days. Revis, who has been generous with his time with reporters throughout the season, stayed almost 15 minutes overtime Wednesday and touched on a variety of topics, including coming to New England on what was essentially a one-year contract.

"Yes, it’s very risky to take that chance, but I believe in myself. I have faith in myself, in what I bring to the table, in how I prepare and just me overall as a person," Revis said. "This is what I love. This is what I do. If I don’t believe in myself, who will?”

Technically, the contract Revis signed with the Patriots last March was a two-year, $32 million pact. But the way it is structured, Revis would count a mammoth $25 million against the salary cap in 2015, which is why the expectation in most circles is that if Revis stays with the team it will be with a restructured deal.

Asked how he deals with playing for a new contract, Revis said, "Just experience, growing as a professional athlete and not really focusing on off-the-field situations or my off-the-field situations. I feel like I’ve got a great team behind me, and they do a great job of where I need to be or where I want to go. I mean, do I want any of the attention? No, but at the same time, this is how my career has been panning out. I’ve just got to make the best of it."
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski provided possibly one of the greatest answers in Super Bowl history Wednesday.

Asked why it is such a big deal when he parties, Gronkowski delivered this response: "Because I'm a baller. Is that a good answer?"

Leave it to Gronkowski to keep it light, which he's done the last two days -- first at Super Bowl media day Tuesday and then Wednesday morning during a 45-minute availability at the team hotel.

Of course, this comes as no surprise to teammates. One of Gronkowski's closest friends on the team, running back Shane Vereen, had some fun needling him this week.

“He's become a sex symbol with some kittens," Vereen cracked. "It's crazy. Whoever thought that some furry little cats would've created a sex symbol? Go figure.”

But Vereen became serious when the topic turned to what it's like to be around Gronkowski on a daily basis.

"The best thing that I've told a lot of people about Gronk is that he's the same person every day," he said. " It's hard to find Gronk on a bad day. He's literally just a person that you want to be around just because his attitude is always positive. He's always got something to say. He's always got something on his mind.”

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Those around him say New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is driven, uncompromising and that he keeps his intentions well camouflaged behind a surrender-nothing, stoic expression.

But yet Vince Wilfork said Wednesday that Belichick is different for his sixth Super Bowl trip -- the defensive tackle used words like "more understanding" and "soft heart" to describe the coach.

"I think Bill had to do a good job of that ever since I've been in the league because we've changed so much," Wilfork said. "We were a veteran team. [Then] it was a younger team -- at one point we were the youngest team in the league. So I think he had to try to find the identity in what works for that team. And I think he's done a great job over the years of doing that.

"But at the end of the day, he is still Bill. He coaches the same way. He demands everything the same way. But I think he's got a little soft heart now. Over time, he got a little softer, though."

Wilfork, who was selected with the 21st pick of the 2004 draft, is in his 11th season with the Patriots. He and quarterback Tom Brady are the only players on New England's roster who played in Super Bowl XXXVIII to close out the '04 season. So he's covered some ground with Belichick along the way.

"Yeah, I've seen the difference in Bill in the 11 years that I have been here, and I tell him he is getting soft," Wilfork said. "But this is a different era of football now -- with how the team has shaped up and how a lot of guys are younger guys.

(Read full post)

McDaniels defends offensive sets

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28

PHOENIX -- New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels defended the team's usage of ineligible receivers in its two playoff games, a hot-button topic that has led to some former coaches, such as Tony Dungy, to call for the tactic to be stopped.

Dungy, in an interview on NBC Sports Network, had called the Patriots' tactic "nothing but an intent to deceive and they are doing it very well." Current Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that his issue was with the officials allowing a defense to match up once an ineligible receiver is announced.

During Super Bowl XLIX media availability Wednesday, McDaniels was asked a question about up-tempo offense as it related to deception and using ineligible receivers, and he interrupted the interviewer to make his point.

"One thing about that that I'd like to clear up is we didn't do any of those things [with ineligible receivers] without huddling," McDaniels said. "When we did those things the last couple of games, we huddled every time we did it with the ineligible player. We substituted, we huddled, we declared him ineligible, the official declared him ineligible, and then we lined up."

(Read full post)