- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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The Patriots are past the halfway point of their on-field preparations for the Houston Texans, as they'll take the field Thursday for their third of four practices leading up to their divisional round game this Sunday.
With another full day of media availability ahead, here's a look at what's on tap and the relevant story lines.
* Practice notes. The Patriots will, of course, be outside for practice once again today, and it looks as though the weather will once again be mild. With a game-time temperature that is expected to feel more like early spring than the middle of winter, weather doesn't look to be much of a factor this Sunday. On Wednesday, the Patriots had 20 players limited due to injuries, including defensive end Rob Ninkovich (hip) and cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip) and Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring/knee). Of note, both of the Patriots' starting offensive tackles, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, were removed from the injury report on Wednesday.
* Captains to speak. The Patriots have tried something unique this week: having their team captains (and some other veterans) address the media inside the visitor's locker room at Gillette Stadium, where quarterback Tom Brady normally conducts his press conferences. Following practice on Thursday, defensive co-captain Devin McCourty and offensive co-captain Logan Mankins will take the podium, as well as receiver Brandon Lloyd. The locker room will also be open for its normal availability following practice.
* Gronk on Texans' radar. The Texans didn't have to face tight end Rob Gronkowski back in Week 14, but head coach Gary Kubiak understands how much of a challenge it will be to stop him this Sunday. "The challenge for him is just amazing because of the size and the ability to ... matchup-wise this guy has worn out a lot of corners and safeties. He’s very tough to handle from that standpoint. The thing that’s so impressive to me is if the ball is close he’s going to make the play, he’s going to make the catch. To me, they do the same things, they’re very efficient with what they do. It just gives them another weapon in how they go about their business. He’s very impressive as a player."
* Graham limited for Texans. Speaking of tight ends, Texans reserve tight end Garrett Graham was limited on Wednesday during Houston's first practice of the week with a concussion. This is particularly noteworthy because Graham was unable to play in Week 14 due to a concussion and is a player that makes the Texans more dynamic when on the field. Said Bill Belichick of Graham on Wednesday, "He gives them some two-tight end formations. With (James) Casey in there, Casey can play tight end and fullback too. They didn’t have him in the first game. I think they used Casey in a role similar to some of things that they would have had Graham doing, he did. When they’ve had all three, of course it gives them the ability to put all three guys on the field at the same time, which they don’t have when they only have two of them. But when there are only two of them out there, I think they try to manage the game with Casey doing what Graham would be doing. But Graham is a good player, he’s a good red area player, he’s a good receiver."
* Brady talks RG3, importance of depth. The NFL quarterback fraternity is a small one, and admiration and respect seems evident between its members. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took a moment Wednesday to answer a question about Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who suffered an ACL injury this past Sunday, something Brady went through back in 2008, while also highlighting the importance of depth in the NFL. "You hate to see guys injured and I certainly wouldn’t wish that injury on anybody. It’s tough. You’ve seen plenty of guys, like on our team, come back from that. We’ve had quite a few players. It’s a physical game and it takes its toll and it’s not an easy game. But you try to be mentally and physically tough and the teams that do that over the course of the season continue to advance. Certainly injuries play a part of every season. We’ve had guys injured. Houston has plenty of guys injured. It’s just part of the season, but the more depth and quality that you have on the football team, the better you’ll be over the long run and the better you’ll be able to sustain it."
* Corrente on the call. Veteran referee Tony Corrente will officiate Sunday's game. Corrente is in his 15th season as a referee, although he has not been on the call for a Patriots game this season. Corrente's recent battle with cancer was chronicled last offseason by Peter King of Sports Illustrated.