Practice turns out to be a hit
INDIANAPOLIS - Perhaps to underscore that the Patriots are here on a business trip, not a leisure excursion, Bill Belichick had his players practice in full pads yesterday.
Though there were two days in between, the team was in pads for the second straight practice. In their final practice of the season on their own field on Friday, the Patriots were in pads as well.
“We had a good, crisp workout,’’ Belichick said at his news conference.
That Belichick has ramped up the padded sessions in the postseason is a reflection of the intensity needed this time of year and the overall health of the team. Their last such practice in the regular season was Dec. 7, before the game in Washington. But the more physical sessions returned Jan. 10, as New England prepared for Denver, and then Friday and yesterday.
Under the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams are allowed one full-pads practice per week in the postseason.
The players seemed to enjoy the session.
“It was good,’’ cornerback Devin McCourty said. “Everybody got a chance to get out there and get after it. We ran around, we practiced hard. We felt like we wanted to come out here and practice hard to start off the week. This was an important day to kind of set the tone.’’
Safety Patrick Chung concurred.
“We were happy,’’ he said. “Time to get back at it. We’re on a business trip. It’s the Super Bowl, festivities, and it’s fun and all that, but when we’re on the field, it’s ‘go’ time. It’s a business.’’
The Patriots were without Rob Gronkowski for the practice, however. The tight end, nursing the most talked-about ankle injury in New England since Curt Schilling’s, was held out as he continues to rehab a high sprain in the hopes he’ll be ready to go - or as ready as possible - for Sunday’s game against the Giants.
“He has a very important role in this offense, and we expect him to be there [in the game],’’ receiver Deion Branch said of Gronkowski. “I know he expects to be there as well.’’
A nod from Irsay
Colts owner Jim Irsay has been quick to say how badly he was hoping his team would be the AFC’s Super Bowl representative, playing in its home stadium, but it’s the rival Patriots taking over the Colts’ complex this week.
As bitter a pill as that is to swallow, Irsay is happy team success is coming Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s way, especially during a season in which his wife Myra died.
“Bob worked so hard during the lockout and going through with Myra, how difficult that was,’’ Irsay said. “Being at the funeral and being there with his family, and knowing how painful that was, but still carrying on, it’s just special.
“He felt that the greatest way to even add to the tribute was to get to the Super Bowl, and here they are. So I’m really happy for him and his family. As intense as we compete against each other, we’re really good friends, and I have so much respect for him.’’
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis hasn’t had much luck in Indianapolis with the Patriots - they lost regular-season meetings in 2008 and 2009 in his first two seasons - but he’s thrilled to be back in Indiana.
This week serves as a Hoosier homecoming for the New Orleans native, who spent his first two college seasons at Indiana before transferring to Ole Miss.
“It was the first time I was out of my element, first time I was out of New Orleans and Louisiana,’’ Green-Ellis said. “To come back for the Super Bowl is great.’’
How’d someone from Louisiana end up in Big Ten country?
“[Indiana] coach Gerry DiNardo had a good sales pitch,’’ Green-Ellis said. “His being at LSU all those years, that kind of sold me a little bit. It was a good fit, I thought.’’
DiNardo might have been the reason Green-Ellis ventured to Indiana, but he was also the reason he left. DiNardo was fired after the 2004 season.
Bloomington is roughly 55 miles from Indianapolis, putting Green-Ellis at least in the vicinity of where he spent some of his formative years. What does he miss?
“Greek’s pizza, the Little 500, Midnight Madness,’’ he said. “I really enjoyed my time here.’’
Although a few players said it was no big deal to be borrowing the home of one of their biggest rivals, McCourty said it was like a road game to see another team’s colors in the locker room.
Branch said it was strange.
“It was weird today,’’ he said. “I think the rest of the week will be OK. I would say they have a beautiful facility. Whoever made that decision, we thank them, and we thank the Colts for allowing us to use their building to practice in.
“We promise that we won’t get it dirty. We’ll keep it clean.’’
Fun with the games
Belichick retold the story about challenging Vince Wilfork to catch a punt during training camp in his rookie season and being surprised when the big defensive tackle made the play.
Wilfork laughed when he recalled his catch and playfully boasted about his athletic ability.
“I think I can throw the ball better than Tom [Brady],’’ he said. “And Tom thinks he can beat me in the 40. Trust me, we have a lot of fun. I’ve had a chance to throw the ball in practice and I’m pretty good.’’
According to Wilfork, he “probably played every position on the field’’ at Santaluces Community High School in Lantana, Fla.
He liked them all, too, except running back and center.
“Center, I went down there and first play the dude hit me right in my head and knocked me down,’’ Wilfork said. “I said, ‘That was it.’ I can’t hike the ball and try and hit somebody.
“Then running back, I got back there and ran the ball and fell backwards. Some dude, probably 5-4 and 120 pounds, hit me so hard I dropped the ball and everything.
“I never ran the ball again. You don’t have to worry about me asking to be a running back.’’
Belichick told WEEI yesterday he will not be wearing the red pullover he wore on the sideline for Super Bowl XLII. Many Patriots long have cursed that pullover, pointing to Belichick’s departure from his usual cutoff hoodie as bad luck in that game . . . The last time he was in a Super Bowl, Branch was just 25 years old. Now, at 32, he’s the old man of the receiving group. But he relishes the chance to pass on his wisdom. “I’m the older guy, it’s crazy,’’ he said. “I was just talking to ‘DP’ [David Patten] about two or three days ago; he was one of the guys I looked up to and he and Troy [Brown] showed so much love to me when I was a young guy, and now I have the same opportunity to do the same thing for these young guys.’’ . . . Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has missed the last seven games with foot and back injuries, but Belichick isn’t ruling out getting the German-born player back for the Super Bowl. He was inactive against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game but was able to practice. He was also on the field yesterday. “Sebastian has gotten a lot better over the last few weeks,’’ Belichick said. “I think there is definitely a possibility. We will just have to see how he tolerates the added work. If he does well, then I think you will see him.’’
Michael Whitmer and John Powers of the Globe staff contributed to this report.