The Patriots received a welcome dose of good news Thursday when they returned to the practice field. Rookie starting center Bryan Stork was back in uniform for the first time since suffering a right knee injury in the second quarter of the Divisional Playoff game against Baltimore earlier this month.
Stork was in full pads, along with the rest of the roster, and had his right knee thoroughly taped up underneath his protective brace. Every offensive lineman wears braces on both knees for precautionary reasons, so, it's unclear just how severely Stork was injured. However, his presence was a positive sign, this far in advance of the Super Bowl, that he could be back in the starting lineup for the biggest game of the season a week from Sunday.
New England will practice again each of the next three days, then fly to Arizona on Monday to begin their week of preparations for Super Bowl XLIX.
Dealing with distractions
Since beating the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game this past Sunday night, the players have had three days to try and make arrangements for all their families and friends to get to the Super Bowl. Many of them were thrilled to be finished with that part of the process and get back to on-field work.
"I think we were able to get all the logistical things out of the way, get our families situated, and things like that. It's time now for us to focus on football," co-captain Matthew Slater declared. "We started going over personnel and things of that nature yesterday, obviously more today, and as the week progresses, we'll do more and more and more. We just have to take it one day at a time from here on in. Our preparation is going to be key."
"Ah, the logistics and arrangements…" cornerback Kyle Arrington said with a knowing smile, having played previously in Super Bowl XLVI.
"You always have a third cousin who you grew up with that you forgot about. But no, fortunately, the wife, she's the CEO of the household and she does a great job of handling everything like that for me so I can just focus on playing the game."
Arrington revealed his simple formula for deciding who to bring to the Super Bowl.
"You look out for those who've looked out for you."
"Oh, I had to say no a few times," laughed safety Duron Harmon, who's appearing in his first Super Bowl in just his second NFL season. "It was definitely hard because you want a lot of people to experience what you experience, but money doesn't grow on trees."
"It's been crazy," echoed wide receiver Brandon LaFell, also going through his first Super Bowl experience. "Gotta tell a lot of people, 'No,' and you have to spend more than you expected to spend, but it's for your loved ones. You play in the Super Bowl… some guys only make it one time."
"Oh, man," rookie backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo chuckled. "Crazy. People coming out of the woodwork that you haven't talked to in years. I don't know if difficult is the word, but it's a tough spot to be put in. Finally got it all squared away, got the family all set up. So, we're ready to roll."
Traditionally, though not always, the designated home team arrives in the Super Bowl host city on the Sunday before the game, while the "visiting" squad gets in town the next day. With New England being the road team in Super Bowl XLIX, they'll be touching down in Phoenix late Monday afternoon, Mountain Time.
As noted above, that means they'll have four full days of practice here in Foxborough before resuming practices in Arizona next Wednesday. The Patriots will take any extra time they can get to study themselves and their opponents, the Seattle Seahawks.
"It's very important. These four days," added LaFell, "we really work on ourselves and putting the game plan in, getting the basics down, and when we get there [to Arizona], we'll just go through our final things and make sure we got everything understood."
"You have to be efficient in what you're doing with your time, especially right now: looking at extra tape, looking at film from the year on yourself, things you need to work at are key," said defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who's appearing in his second Super Bowl with the Patriots. "Right now, it's about getting better. Being able to say here and get a couple extra days of practice is great."
"I'm looking forward to another opportunity that you don't get often. I'm excited – very, very excited to get this week of preparation going. I'm excited to have another opportunity. The first one [Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis] didn't go the way I wanted. We're not where we need to be right now. We've got time to get ready for the game, but going into today's practices and those going forward, we have to have the right mentality."
"Definitely, you've got that extra bit of time. If you don't take advantage of it, the other guys will," Garoppolo added. "I have to focus on us, on Russell [Wilson], getting the scout team look. It's a little bit of everything. Time management comes into play there."
"We have to focus on preparing for the football game and playing the Seattle Seahawks," Slater concluded. "That's where our focus is. Obviously, there are a number of other things going on. This is a game we've worked for our whole careers. It's not hard to focus on that. This is not a vacation for us, this is not a celebration. We have a job to do."