INDIANAPOLIS -- New England tight end Rob Gronkowski's return highlighted Thursday's Super Bowl XLVI practice at Indianapolis Colts headquarters.
Appearing in the second half of the nearly two-hour session, Gronkowski participated on a limited basis for the first time since suffering a sprained left ankle January 22 during New England's 23-20 AFC Championship game victory over Baltimore.
"He did some things. He didn't do everything," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll see how he is tomorrow. I think that will be the big key - how he responds to this today."
Asked how encouraged he was by what Gronkowski did Thursday, Belichick said, "It was good. It was fine. We'll see where he is tomorrow -- whether that set him back, whether it didn't and whether he's able to continue to progress on a daily basis. But it was a good test for him, too, at least. At least he was out here and did some things to see how it feels. We'll see how it goes."
Gronkowski enjoyed one of the most prolific seasons for a tight end in NFL history with 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Working in helmets and shells, the Patriots ran a gamut of offensive, defensive, and special-teams drills inside the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. Belichick said his players had "good energy. They worked hard."
Helping to set the tempo early was Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson. A two-time super bowl winner as a New York Giants linebacker, Johnson screamed encouragement during the opening kickoff work and even tried to playfully tackle linebacker Tracy White after throwing an interception during a defensive line drill.
"Pepper's got a lot of energy," Belichick said with a smile.
On Wednesday, Belichick made the strategic move of taking a 30-minute break during the middle of practice to mimic the extended halftime coming for Sunday's matchup against the Giants.
"We were trying to simulate the best we can," Belichick said. "It's not perfect but it's the best we could do. Practice, take a break, come back out and re-start."
Belichick said Friday's practice would be "more review. Obviously, we don't have much new going in. Just kind of making sure everything we have going in we've got right."
Asked if he was doing anything different during practices than prior to New England's previous four Super Bowl appearances under his guidance, Belichick said, "I think each one's different. Each team is different and each preparation is a little bit different depending on what the needs are, your opponent, where your team is, how experienced they are and so forth. There are little tweaks here and there but it's basically the same."