It remains the same as yesterday: Jabar Gaffney (shoulder) was limited; Tom Brady (right shoulder) had full participation.
The following is the pool report filed by Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune:
Quarterback Tom Brady's ankle injury continued to look like a non-factor in practice Thursday. Brady moved well, threw well and did not appear to limp. His ankle was not taped over his shoe.
Receiver Jabar Gaffney's participation in practice was limited because of a shoulder injury.
After an inconsistent showing Wednesday, the Patriots had a crisp practice on a sunny day at Sun Devil Stadium Thursday. The Patriots don't always wear pads on Thursdays, but they did in preparation of Super Bowl XLII.
Coach Bill Belichick said his team practiced better. "Another day always helps," he said. "These guys care. They want to practice well. When we make mistakes we've got to correct them. They want to get it right the next time."
Asked where the team was in terms of overall preparation, Belichick said, "We're pretty close. We'll review some stuff tomorrow. There won't be hardly anything new. Just reviewing situations., We're as ready as we're going to be. We could spend four weeks preparing for the Giants. But we'll be ready to go."
Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli were both asked yesterday about New England's draft class this year, which initially saw just three players make the active roster: Brandon Meriweather, Kareem Brown and undrafted quarterback Matt Gutierrez. Oscar Lua and Mike Richardson were placed on injured reserve.
Belichick fairly bristled at the notion that the Pats had a bad draft.
"Our second round pick was Wes Welker and our fourth round pick was Randy Moss, so even though they weren’t draft choices, they’ve been significant players on our team," he said in a gross understatement.
When Pioli was asked about only one draftee being on the current roster (Brown was cut and picked up by the Jets), he answered in much the same way as Belichick.
"The way I look at it, our second-round draft pick was Wes Welker and our fourth-round draft picj was Randy Moss," he said.
New England traded its second round and a seventh-round pick to Miami for the rights to Welker, who went on to set a franchise record with 112 receptions, and the team sent a fourth-round choice to Oakland for Moss, who set a new league record with 23 touchdown receptions this season.
Many of the Patriots' assistant coaches have gotten attention this week, partly because they're never heard from, and some (Josh McDaniels) because the world is trying to figure out if they'd be a good coach for their franchise.
Pepper Johnson's appeal lies in the fact that he played for the Giants during their glory days in the late 1980s and into the '90s and now works under his former coach, Bill Belichick. The first player to be a two-time captain at Ohio State and a member of the Buckeyes' All-Century team and Hall of Fame, the Detroit native played in 193 games over 13 seasons with the Giants, not missing a practice or game for the first 11 plus years of his career. Playing at inside linebacker, he accumulated over 1,200 tackles and 25.5 sacks with New York.
Two years after his retirement, in 2000, Johnson joined Belichick's staff through the NFL's summer coaching fellowship; he spent the season with the team as a defensive coaching assistant. The next year, he became the team's inside linebackers coach; in '04, he took over the defensive line, arguably one of the best D-lines in the NFL.
"I think Pepper had great leadership skills... and we saw that at the Giants, even early in his career," Belichick recalled this morning. "I remember there were certainly times when I was the defensive coordinator at the Giants and we would be sitting there on the sidelines, and of course we liked to play a lot of Cover 2 back in those days, with the safeties back there deep. There was one game in particular where they were running the ball against us and I called the team over and I said, 'OK, look, we’re going to play a little more Cover 3 and bring the safety down into the front to help us in the running game.' Pepper said, 'No, no. You don’t do that. You keep those safeties back there. We’re going to take care of the run. We don’t need any help. You guys stay back there and play the pass – We’re going to handle the running game. We don’t need any help.' That’s a great attitude to play the game."
As a coach, Belichick said, Johnson brings the same type of confidence he had as a player to his current job. And on Fridays, it has become tradition that Johnson lead the kickoff drills, his booming voice counting off players and then shouting, "We gets down!" when it's time for Stephen Gostkowski to kickoff.
Johnson also runs the Show Team, what New England calls the defensive scout team.
"Those players take a lot of pride in it, as Pepper does. They do an awesome job of getting our defense ready to play on a weekly basis. I’m sure that [Tom] Brady and all of the other offensive players would tell you how good of a job our defensive show team players do of getting us ready to play the game, and Pepper has great enthusiasm. He does a tremendous job on that.
"I can’t say enough about Pepper. He’s been a great player for me, a great coach for me and a great friend through the years. I have great respect for everything that he’s done in the National Football League and in football."
In case you're wondering, Johnson's given name is Thomas; an aunt gave him the nickname Pepper because the young man sprinkled pepper on his breakfast cereal.
During the Patriots' media-access period, Mike Vrabel was one of six players at risers ringing the tent outside the hotel. At one point, a television reporter asked what was the dumbest question Vrabel's been asked or that he's heard.
Vrabel replied that he heard a few of the players got marriage proposals (the infamous TV Azteca wedding dress "reporter"), but to him, it "demeans the sport when you ask stupid questions" actually gave those of us in the New England media corps props for working so hard at what we do.
Then, without missing a beat, the same reporter asks, "Who's the funniest guy on the team?"
Not the dumbest question in the world, but not wondering how the Pats will shut down Bradon Jacobs, either.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Thursday press conference
It was good to be back out on the practice field yesterday. We got a lot of things done and certainly need to have another good day today and try to build things up, cover all of the situations and be ready to go on Sunday. Really, that’s pretty much about it. We’re trying to have kind of a normal week of practice here, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday leading up to a Sunday game, and we’ll try to stay on that schedule today.
On what the thought process was in drafting Logan Mankins and the advancements he’s made since coming out of Fresno State)
When we took Logan, we of course had seen his outstanding career and Fresno and his ability to play left tackle. Fortunately, our left tackle situations have been pretty stable here, and Matt’s [Light] done a good job there. I think that Logan has a lot of position versatility for us, but given our situation when he came in -- and it really hasn’t changed much in the last three years – he’s done a great job for us there at left guard. A player at that position goes up against a lot of different types of athletes and he’s up against inside linebackers, some of the big, 350 pound defensive linemen and some of the real quick pass rushers, like a guy like [Justin] Tuck that we’ll face this week. Logan has a good versatile combination of skills where he can play with power, he’s athletic enough to play in space and pass protect and I think that he could have good position flexibility across the board, if we needed it. That hasn’t been the case, but for right now he’s done a great job for us at right guard.
On if anything has changed in the team’s approach to this game and where they are in their preparation)
It certainly hasn’t changed this week. I don’t think you’re ever where you want to be. There’s always more to do, there’s always things that you’ve done that you wish you could have done a little better or an adjustment you’ve made that it would have been a little bit smoother if you’d gotten it right in the first place. That’s always a process of getting ready for the game. You put the things in, you work on them, you modify and adjust them. You don’t have time to go back over everything because you have to move ahead to other situations – third down, red area, two-minute, short yardage, goal line – all of those things, so you can’t just keep going back and back and back over things. You have to move ahead. I’m sure that we’ll be ready to go by game time – as ready as we’re going to be. As I said earlier in the week, playing against a team like the Giants, as many different things as they do and as wide an attack that they have, you could probably take a month to get ready for this game and still not hit everything. We have enough time to be ready. We’ll be ready on Sunday. It probably won’t be perfect, but it will be as good as it can be.
On the evolution of Stephen Neal as an offensive lineman and why he thought a college wrestler would be good at that position)
Steve’s a real interesting story. Over the summer of 2001, we worked Steve out, just as an athlete, really, just as you said, as a former wrestler with no football background since the eighth grade. We worked him out and were impressed with his athletic ability and his size, and his overall body balance. I felt that even though he didn’t have much experience playing football that athletically he would certainly be able to compete with players on the line of scrimmage, because of his leverage and his ability to run. In my brilliance, I decided to put him on defense and he was over there for about two or three weeks, and really was totally lost. It was really hard for him to react to all of the different things that the offense was doing – their different blocking schemes, reading run and pass, getting in the proper gaps and so forth and so on. After a period of time we moved him over to offense, but he was so far behind at that point that he really didn’t have much of a chance to compete there. He just ran plays off the scout team. Then when we signed him at the end of the season off of Philadelphia’s practice squad, he was much further along as an offensive football player, and he made great strides in the ’02 season. Then even in the ’03 season when he was injured [he improved]. Then by ’04, he really had taken all of the classroom work and the individual instruction drills and things like that and was really able to transfer them to the field and play very well – remarkably, really, considering his lack of overall football experience. When Steve started, he really didn’t even know where to go in the huddle. I mean, it was really starting from square one, but Steve’s a smart kid, he works hard, he’s very diligent, he’s tough, very athletic for his possession and has been able to absorb a lot of information and process it and play to a high level. He’s come a long way, but he’s worked hard. He certainly deserves everything that he’s gotten, but I’ve never coached a player that’s traveled the distance from where he started to what he’s become as a football player, and he’s great for our football team. Nobody works harder or is tougher or gives more of himself to our team than Steve Neal.
On this year’s draft class and why most of their contributions have come from Brandon Meriweather)
Our second round pick was Wes Welker and our fourth round pick was Randy Moss, so even though they weren’t draft choices, they’ve been significant players on our team. We’ve had a couple other players that are on injured reserve, so their seasons were cut a little bit short. Brandon is the only true rookie we drafted, and then of course Matt [Gutierrez], our third quarterback, had a good preseason and made our roster. That’s where we’re at. We made our decisions based on what we [felt] was best for our football team back in September, when we cut out roster to 53. As I said, a couple of those players on [the] injured reserve list, so we’ll see how their careers develop as we go forward.
On who the best quarterback he ever saw was)
Oh, boy. That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. I was pretty young – Johnny Unitas was very impressive, and I loved watching him. Of course, I grew up in Annapolis and watched Baltimore play for years. They were kind of my team, so watching Unitis and Berry and Lenny Moore and all of the great players that the Colts had there, that was pretty special. He was pretty good. He was pretty good, and he was a great leader. So, I think there are probably a lot of other people that are more qualified to answer that than I am, but I’ve had the fortunate experience to work with some outstanding quarterbacks, certainly Phil Simms in New York was a tremendous quarterback for our football team. Tom Brady has been the same here. Vinny’s done a great job for us in Cleveland and at the Jets, and even in his role here at the Patriots. Burt Jones. As a pure passer, I don’t think I could put anybody ahead of Burt Jones. I know he had a short career and had a shoulder injury and all of that, but when I was there and when he was just starting his career, the success that he had, his ability to throw the ball, just as a pure passer and an athlete, it would be hard to put anybody ahead of Burt Jones at that point in time.
On what he thinks of when he hears the name Tedy Bruschi)
[A] football player.
On Bruschi’s comeback following suffering a stroke)
I think it’s tremendous. Tedy’s meant so much to this organization, to this team, and really to the entire community. I know his impact is felt nationwide, as you said, just on what he’s gone through. But, again, if I were to open the dictionary to “football player” and see Tedy Bruschi’s picture there, that would be fitting. He’s all about football. He knows how to play. He knows how to play from a team standpoint. He’s very instinctive. It doesn’t really matter what you ask Tedy to do, whether it’s the running game, passing game, special teams. He just always seems to do the right thing. [He] shows up on the ball at the right time. Sometimes you’d think he would go over a block and he ends up going under it, and he makes the right the choice. The next time it’s just the opposite. Sometimes it seems like he’s a little deep, but that’s really where he should be. The next time it seems like he’s a little short, but that’s really where it should be. He just has a great knack for finding the ball, knowing where to be in the right place at the right time, and how to feed off his teammates without it slowing down his aggressive style of play. He’s a great leader, he’s a great worker, he’s very unselfish. There isn’t a player on our time, I don’t think, that doesn’t look up to Tedy Bruschi’s attitude, toughness and consistency as a football player. We’re really lucky to have Tedy on our team, and the comeback he’s made since the beginning of the calendar ’05 year after the ’04 season has truly been remarkable. He’s a special guy.
On accusations that Richard Seymour and Matt Light are dirty players and if he finds that offensive or uses it as motivation)
Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I’ve looked at our team play and we’ve moved on from all of those situations. I think our players work hard, they play hard and I support the way they play the game. Not that we don’t make mistakes along the way. Sometimes we do, and we’ve been penalized for them. That’s part of football. I think all of those – I think our players play hard, they play clean and I support the way they play the game.
On Eli Manning’s performance in the regular season finale and how he’s improved since then)
I think Eli’s had a good year, and I think that’s reflected by the team’s record. Eli, mechanically, I think is a very good quarterback. His fundamentals are good, his footwork, his ball-handling, release, accuracy and so forth. I think he has good pocket presence. I think he’s athletic enough to have [a] good presence in the pocket and hit receivers accurately, down the field and in the short and intermediate range. I think he manages his team well and he’s a good football player. He has good players around him and he’s able to get the ball to them and let them be productive and make plays. I think that’s really what the quarterback’s job is, is to get the ball to players on your offensive team that can get the ball in situations where they can be productive and they can utilize their skills, and Eli’s done a great job of that. I think he’s done it all year and he’s certainly done it the last few weeks. He did it against us – no question about that. He killed us.
On how Pepper Johnson has come along as a coach and if there was something he saw in him as a player that made him think he would make a good coach)
I think Pepper had great leadership skills, and that was evidenced in part by his election as a two-time captain at Ohio State, which I believe at that time was the first player that had ever received that recognition. That gives you some sense of the type of leadership that Pepper has, and we saw that at the Giants, even early in his career, his rookie year. I remember there were certainly times when I was the defensive coordinator at the Giants and we would be sitting there on the sidelines, and of course we liked to play a lot of Cover 2 back in those days, with the safeties back there deep. There was one game in particular where they were running the ball against us and I called the team over and I said, “OK, look, we’re going to play a little more Cover 3 and bring the safety down into the front to help us in the running game.” Pepper said, “No, no. You don’t do that. You keep those safeties back there. We’re going to take care of the run. We don’t need any help. You guys stay back there and play the pass – We’re going to handle the running game. We don’t need any help.” That’s a great attitude to play the game. Pepper plays with a lot of confidence, and that confidence carries over to his teammates and the rest of the team. And as a coach, he’s done that, whether it be coaching the linebackers, the defensive line or – One of Pepper’s – The thing that he probably does that everybody on our team will talk to you about, is the way he runs the defensive scout team, what we call the Show Team. Those players take a lot of pride in it and Pepper does. They do an awesome job of getting our defense ready to play on a weekly basis. I’m sure that [Tom] Brady and all of the other offensive players would tell you how good of a job our defensive show team players do of getting us ready to play the game, and Pepper has great enthusiasm. He does a tremendous job on that. I can’t say enough about Pepper. He’s been a great player for me, a great coach for me and a great friend through the years. [I] have great respect for everything that he’s done in the National Football League and in football.
On how much trepidation he had replacing Adam Vinatieri and what made him think Stephen Gostkowski could handle that role)
We all know in free agency players change teams, and that happens every year. Stephen had an outstanding career. We scouted him and thought that he would be able to kick in this league. He’s come in and done a good job for us. [He] did an excellent job last year and this year, both in his kickoffs and his field goals. We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s kicked in all different kinds of conditions this year. I think that’s something that has been a little more challenging for him this year than it was last year, but he’s made some big kicks for us in the last couple seasons. He’s given us a good degree of consistency throughout his game, both on kickoffs and field goals. He’s a young player, he works hard, there’s still room for improvement and nobody works harder at his job than Stephen does. He has a good temperament for the game. He has a good degree of confidence, but certainly not overbearing. Athletically, he works out with the other players. He doesn’t really isolate himself as a kicker. He fits into the team chemistry very well.
On how much he still enjoys the teaching aspect of coaching)
I love coaching, and coaching comes in a lot of different forms for me. In the spring, when we draft the rookie players out of college and bring in the rookie free agents and all of that, we usually have about 20 guys or so, somewhere in that vicinity, and we start with them on the most basic fundamentals – our basic formations, our basic running plays, our base defense, our base coverage – and just really start from square one. You’re talking about stance and footwork and the simplest reads that we can have in our system. I really enjoy the fundamental aspect of that, going back and talking about the – just the real little specific plays to run a play right. And then as you build and build through the course of the season, you get to working with some of the real special players in this league – guys like Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau and Tom Brady and Randy Moss and Wes Welker. You can just go right down the line – that have exceptional skill and that are very intelligent, that can handle multiple, multiple variations of a play of a situation or a route or a coverage. Sometimes I don’t even know if they could articulate exactly what they see or how they’re seeing it. They just know it and they just can do it. When you can say to a player, “Look, in this situation, can you see this? Can you do that?” and he says, “Oh, yeah, sure. That’s not a problem,” it’s awesome as a coach to be able to work with those types of talented players. So the whole spectrum, from the stance to recognizing a play that you’re maybe only going to see once in the game – maybe you’re going to see the play two or three times a year – that a player can recognize and you can say, “OK, let’s play it this way when you see it,” and he can do it. It’s a tremendous experience as a coach. Or to take a situation and say, “OK, when there’s this much time on the clock, here’s the situation. We have to gain 20 yards. We don’t have a time out. We have to go up and clock the ball. Here’s the play. Here’s how we’re going to run it,” to have the team be able to go out and execute and do it is a very high level of coaching. It’s thrilling to be a part of that and to be able to coach that way, just as much as it is to teach a linebacker how to deal with a cut-block. I enjoy all of that and it’s fun to coach all of the different players at all of those different levels.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- All three of New England’s Super Bowl victories this decade have been decided by a field goal.
Four of the Patriots games this season have been decided by four points or less. Patriots veteran safety Rodney Harrison said that the Patriots are able to win close games because they have veteran leaders who know what to do during crunch time.
“We practice a lot of situational football,” Harrison said. “Bill wants smart, tough guys that can play well under pressure, and that’s what I think we have. We have a bunch of veteran guys. They say we’re old. They say we can’t play defense but we’re fourth overall in scoring defense. We’re 18-0 but none of that matters. It’s all about what we do and how we execute on Sunday and that’s what it comes down too.”
Harrison said that it’s good to have fast players on defense like the Giants do, but being fast doesn’t always make a player a better defender.
“The common theme is speed, speed, speed, but if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to get there a lot faster but you’re going to be in the wrong spot,” Harrison said. “I think our guys are veteran players that are smart. That play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. We’re well prepared and we play extremely hard.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Patriots Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss has dreamt several times that not only do the Patriots win the Super Bowl on Sunday, but that he also has a big game.
“I’m daydreaming every day, all day,” Moss said. “I’ve already [dreamed that I] played three games in the Super Bowl and all three of them have victories with me having a big game…That’s just me daydreaming and that’s just common.”
On today's sports cover, Jim Donaldson profiles the ultimate NFL survivor: Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia, who has been with the team since 1982. Shalise Manza Young writes about the memory of Marquise Hill, and Paul Kenyon reports on the URI Rams' victory over Richmond.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- With Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress saying earlier this week that the Giants were going to beat the Patriots, 23-17, in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Patriots safety Rodney Harrison went on record today with a little guarantee of his own.
"I guarantee you we are not going to play as poorly as last time...," Harrison said of the Patriots defense, which allowed Giants quarteback Eli Manning to throw for four touchdowns.
The Giants scored 35 points in that game.
“We played our worst defensive game of the year,” Harrison said. “We gave up 35 points. We’re fourth in the league in points given up and we gave up 35 points which is very uncharacteristic of our defense and we played terrible…I guarantee you we are not going to play as poorly as last time but we walked away with a win and everyone is chomping at [us giving up 35 points]. A win is a win and we're not concerned about what happened in the last game of the season."
Moss dislikes being in the spotlight off of the field
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is a lot of public interest in Randy Moss and for good reason.
The Patriots Pro Bowl wide receiver set an NFL record for touchdown receptions in a season, 23, in helping lead the Patriots to a perfect regular season record, 16-0.
As much as Moss enjoys being in the spotlight on the field, he said that he hates being in the public eye off of the field.
“It’s hard knowing that my kids don’t really understand when people come up nagging me for autographs, bustle me and talk trash to me because I won’t sign an autograph because I’m trying to be daddy that day,” Moss said. “It’s kind of hard because there’s a certain image that you have to portray and as you all know over my 10 year career, that’s not me.
“I live for the moment and I live for my family so as far as being in the spotlight and being a celebrity and stuff like that, I still don’t see myself like that. Other people do but I try not to let them see me that way. I hate it.”
Moss said that when he does go out in public, often times he wears a sweatshirt with a hood and he pulls the hood up over his head so people don’t know that it’s him. He said that he stays secluded mostly at home, but once and awhile he does venture out with his family.
“I like spending time with my family. I like going out. I like going to amusement parks and I like going to movies and Chuckie Cheese and stuff like that,” Moss said.
Multimedia: Projo PatsTalk with Shalise Manza Young
Before beginning her day on Thursday, Patriots writer Shalise Manza Young spoke to Mike McDermott for this multimedia show. The topics: Tom Brady, Plaxico Burress, stopping New York's running game, and honoring Marquise Hill. Click the play button below to listen and watch. Shalise will file multimedia reports tomorrow as well.