Patriots notebook

Vollmer expected to play

He has recovered from foot injury

R. GRONKOWSKI Gives boot a boot R. GRONKOWSKI Gives boot a boot
By Greg A. Bedard and Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / February 1, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS – While stopping short of saying Sebastian Vollmer would definitely play in Super Bowl XLVI against the Giants, Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia indicated the right tackle would return to the lineup.

“He’s back to practicing and being healthy,’’ Scarnecchia said yesterday.

Vollmer has played in six games this season, none since the Nov. 27 game at Philadelphia. Vollmer had a bruised back earlier in the season, and then a foot injury knocked him out for the rest of the regular season.

Asked if it’s a tough chore going from not playing to suiting up in the Super Bowl, Scarnecchia didn’t flinch.

“It doesn’t matter,’’ Scarnecchia said. “Anytime you step across the line and you’ve got [Giants end] Justin Tuck on the other side, that’s always a tough proposition.’’ reported Scarnecchia said Vollmer would “play in the game at some point.’’

Having Vollmer back against Tuck and the rest of the Giants line would be a big boost. Vollmer is better able to handle Tuck’s power game. Rookie Nate Solder’s forté is against speed rushers, and having Vollmer in the lineup would allow the Patriots to use Solder as a third tight end.

Whoever plays, Scarnecchia knows his group must continue to play its best, something he acknowledged his line failed to do in the three consecutive playoff losses before this season, starting with the Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants.

“Quite honestly, we hadn’t played very good football on the offensive line in three playoff games. That’s the truth,’’ Scarnecchia said. “And we felt like if we wanted to be successful and get to where we wanted to go, we had to play our best football each week in these playoffs. Whether anyone thinks that or not, I don’t particularly care.

“But I just know this: that’s our challenge and it’s again our challenge this week. We have to play our best football on Sunday afternoon against a very good defense and see where it goes from there.’’

Scarnecchia, who is in his 28th season with the Patriots and doesn’t speak to the media outside of the Super Bowl, knows the Giants vaunted defensive line can cause problems. But he’s comfortable with his group, which includes left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Connolly, and right guard Brian Waters.

“We’re not devoid of talent,’’ Scarnecchia said. “We’ve got pretty good guys, and guys that have experience. They’re good guys, tough guys.’’

Scarnecchia praised the players on his line.

“We’re all glad that [Light] did come back to us and he’s had a nice year,’’ Scarnecchia said of Light, who was an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. “He really truly has had a nice year.’’

Scarnecchia used Light’s rookie season - when he started 15 games in 2001, including Super Bowl XXXVI - as a comparison for how well Solder, the team’s first-round pick, has played.

“His bad times weren’t even remotely close to Matt Light’s bad times [as a rookie]. It ain’t even close,’’ Scarnecchia said. “Thank God we took [Solder], really, when you think about it because we didn’t have Light at the time, all of a sudden we get some injuries at tackle with Sebastian. The fact that [Solder’s] playing tight end and tackle - either side - to his credit, how could you want any more out of a young kid than what we’ve gotten out of him this year? And he will continue to be a better player as the years go on. We’re very, very pleased to have him.’’

Scarnecchia said Mankins had a “really exceptional year,’’ and that Connolly, despite being a fill-in after starter Dan Koppen went on injured reserve, is “a very, very good center in this league.’’ Scarnecchia said Waters instantly melded into the line after 11 seasons with the Chiefs.

“He’s played really, really well all season long,’’ Scarnecchia said. “The most important thing is he’s a leader that all of a sudden has really stepped into that role for us along with Light and Mankins. They really respect that guy.”

Positive stride

Another positive sign that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will play Sunday came yesterday when he appeared at Media Day without wearing the protective boot on his left ankle.

The high ankle sprain, suffered in the AFC Championship game, was the topic du jour for Gronkowski, who was consistent with his answers, no matter how the question related to his status was asked: He’s rehabbing diligently, and hopeful that he’ll be on the field.

“We are making positive strides every single day,’’ said Gronkowski, who has not practiced since the injury. “That’s the goal, to make positive strides every day and do the most you can, so you don’t look back and regret that you didn’t do it all. It’s going good. Hopefully, I’ll be ready.’’

Gronkowski might play, but it’s doubtful he’d be 100 percent. Dr. Phillip Kwong, a foot and ankle surgeon at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, said high ankle sprains are typically more painful and much more difficult to come back from than low ankle sprains.

“Chances are he’ll still have swelling, pain, his range of motion won’t be as good. He’s not functionally going to be himself,’’ said Kwong, who is not treating Gronkowski and was speaking in general terms. “But it’s fortunate that he’s an offensive player, because he can plan his moves. He’s going to be impaired, but they can manage it as best they can with tape and medication.’’

Still Peyton’s place

A bigger story for football fans in the host city is the ongoing saga surrounding Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who missed the season with a neck injury and might not return. Indianapolis holds the No. 1 pick in the draft, which they’re expected to use on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Manning is owed a $28 million roster bonus March 8, with speculation mounting that the Colts will release the league’s only four-time MVP.

During Media Day, his counterpart with the Patriots weighed in.

“Peyton’s a great friend of mine, and I don’t think there’s been any better representative for the NFL than him,’’ Tom Brady said. “What he’s been able to accomplish in his career, and obviously what he’s meant for this city in Indianapolis, I have so much respect for him as an athlete and as a quarterback.

“There’s nothing more that I would like to see than have him out on the field next year playing for the Colts.’’

Two possible landing areas for Manning, should the Colts release him, are the Jets and Dolphins. Would Brady like to see Manning in the AFC East?

“I would certainly hope he’s not in our division,’’ Brady said. “I hope he’s back playing next year for anybody.’’

Smith praises owners

NFL Players’ Association head DeMaurice Smith said this week that he was glad to see the Giants and Patriots in the Super Bowl, because the owners of the teams, John Mara and Robert Kraft, were integral in ending the lockout and getting a new collective bargaining agreement done.

Mara appreciated the sentiment - to a point.

“Oh, absolutely. I’m not necessarily happy to be playing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, I’ll tell you that,’’ Mara said. “But yeah, I’m very happy for Bob because he put his heart and soul into those negotiations during a very difficult time for him and his family so I think the success they’ve had is well-deserved.”

Mara also expounded on Kraft’s role in negotiations.

“I don’t think we get to the finish line without Bob Kraft. The message that he kept delivering for players, which I think really resonated, [was] ‘We’re not going to let you do a bad deal. We need to do a deal that works for both of us and we need to make it a long-term deal because that has such a huge effect on our business, which in turn helps you.’ That message came across over and over again,’’ Mara said.

“Everybody knew what he was going through and he still found the time to be there with us. Like I said, I don’t think we get the deal done without him being there.’’

Shalise Manza Young of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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