Check out photos from access to players and coaches as the New England Patriots prepare to play the Houston Texans on Sunday night at NRG Stadium in Houston.
For the fourth straight Patriots practice session, Rob Gronkowski has not been able to take part. The All-Pro tight end suffered a bone bruise and sprain in his right knee during the Week 12 Broncos game and has not been seen on the field since. There was some speculation among media that he could return to practice this week, and that could still be the case, but as of Wednesday, he remained out of commission.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman also remains sidelined after breaking his left foot the previous game versus the New York Giants. In addition, safety Patrick Chung has been dealing with a foot problem of his own since just before the Denver game. He was able to play against the Broncos and Eagles, and was limited all last week in practice, but was not able to suit up this Wednesday, presumably because of that same issue.
On a positive note, guard Josh Kline appeared to escape serious harm after he injured his right shoulder in the late fourth quarter against Philadelphia. Kline, wearing a small brace on his shoulder, was able to make an appearance at Wednesday's practice, as did linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who was held out of the Philly game with a left knee injury he sustained in Denver. Hightower was limited all last week in practice as well.
Defensive lineman Dominique Easley, also held out of the Eagles game because of an ankle injury, was fit enough to return today for his second consecutive practice session. He took part last Friday on a limited basis after missing the two previous workouts.
Rookie cornerback Justin Coleman, sporting a cast on his right hand, was held out against the Eagles, but managed to practice for the second straight session. He returned last Friday after missing the previous three weeks of games and practice.
Wilfork waxes poetic
We're only halfway through his week, but there's already been plenty of talk about two subjects: the Texans' familiarity with New England and Houston's best player, defensive end J.J. Watt.
The first topic, of course, stems from all the Patriots alums who now work for the Texans, starting with head coach Bill O'Brien, the erstwhile offensive coordinator here in Foxborough. Romeo Crennel is defensive coordinator, a job he once held with New England, and former Patriots assistant George Godsey is Houston's offensive coordinator. Former Patriots players Mike Vrabel and Anthony Pleasant are assistants on O'Brien's staff, as well.
Then there's starting QB Brian Hoyer, once a Tom Brady backup, and perennial co-captain Vince Wilfork, who's now starting at nose tackle for the Texans.
In a conference call with New England media, Wilfork described playing beside the uber-talented Watt as a "blessing… It's a sight to see, I'll tell you that."
Wilfork also revealed that when he and his former Patriots teammates used to watch film of Watt, they'd refer to him as "J.J. WHAT?!" because he would amaze them with his athletic ability.
Asked if he believes his Texans are catching the Patriots, who've lost two straight, at a vulnerable time, Wilfork declared, "There's never a good time to catch the Patriots."
Wilfork added that he harbors no ill will toward the team that drafted him and with whom he won a couple of Super Bowls. He noted that he'll be enemies with QB Tom Brady during the game Sunday night, but that afterward, "I'll be right back to loving him."
For some Patriots, the Houston trip is a familiar one.
Left tackle Sebastian Vollmer played his college ball at the University of Houston.
"I mean, obviously it's a business trip for us, not like a reunion," he said Wednesday, "but, yeah, it's good to be back."
Wide receiver Danny Amendola, a native of the Houston suburbs, was a little more enthusiastic about the idea of going back home.
"Hell yeah!" he exclaimed. "I love going back. Mexican food and football. That's what Texas is all about."