Gronkowski doesn't practice; Vollmer a 'possibility' to play Sunday
INDIANAPOLIS — Patriots head coach Bill Belichick rarely talks injuries. He barely did on Monday, either.
When asked about the health of star TE Rob Gronkowski, who is believed to have a high ankle sprain, Belichick gave only a quick update: "He didn't practice today."
That's normally a bevy of information for the often secretive coach, but Belichick did open up on the status of OT Sebastian Vollmer, who hasn't played since late November.
Belichick said Vollmer had a cast, "or whatever it was," removed from his injured ankle after the playoff win over the Broncos and was close to being able to play against the Ravens a week ago Sunday. Belichick said it was a "possibility," when asked about it by a German reporter, that Vollmer would be able to play against the Giants on Super Bowl Sunday.
Giants FS Antrel Rolle, who has covered tight ends this season, says he expects Gronkowski to play Sunday. Rolle says he also expects the best from the injured player.
"Gronkowski, he does it all," Rolle said. "He has great hands, run-after-the-catch ability and, most of all, he just finds a way to get open."
A reporter asked Rolle if the Giants would defend Gronkowski differently because of the injury.
"No, not at all," Rolle said. "This is the biggest game of the year. They wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for him, without a doubt. They're going to make sure he's ready for this game, and we understand that."
— Eric Edholm
Rolle: Manning has become team leader
Antrel Rolle can't say enough about Eli Manning. The two are seldom in the same meeting room, they don't share locker space and don't go out socially. But Rolle is all in with Manning, who has the ear of this team — and its most talkative member.
Manning issued a rare speech last week to his Giants teammates, explaining the pain of losing a Super Bowl, something Manning felt through his brother, Peyton, whose Colts lost to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV two years ago.
The speech resonated with the Giants, especially Rolle, who often serves as a mouthpiece for the defensive players.
"I needed to hear that," Rolle said. "Although I have been there before (losing Super Bowl XLIII as a member of the Cardinals), it was something I needed to be real to myself about. I am glad that he said what he said. He doesn't say much, so you know when Eli stands up ... and he had a look on his face that you knew it was time for business. Eli and I have a lot of conversations. Hearing him say that, you just heard it going through the room: 'He's our guy.' "
Manning often keeps quiet most of the year, but his play this season — especially in the clutch — and his increased comfort standing in front of his teammates have improved Manning's standing even more with his teammates.
ORG Chris Snee, who has stepped up as one of the Giants' leaders this season following the release of C Shaun O'Hara and OG Rich Seubert, said Manning's toughness in starting more than 100 consecutive games has been one of the hallmarks of his career and that the Giants take mental note of all the hits Manning takes and how he just bounces back up, time and time again.
"Just to do that in this league, you know, taking shots every week," Snee said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Snee said the offensive line took it personally to watch the tape of the NFC title game against 49ers, watching Manning spending most of the second half face-down on a muddy field.
"It was tough," Snee said. "We had to sit there, had to make notes, know why it happened, know what they did up front, because we could see it again."
Rolle, who frequently is outspoken but says he "doesn't like the media," says he has taken notice of how Manning has taken on more of a leadership role.
"I have learned a lot about Eli all year long, not only on the field but off the field. His attitude, his confidence, his approach to the game, they are remarkable.
I am not like Eli. Whatever I feel at that moment, I am going to say. He definitely picks his moments. But I see his leadership in how his receivers play. They are always following him every day. They fall in line with what he does.
"We love Eli. We're going to ride with him all the way."
— Eric Edholm
Snee: Super Bowl will be won in trenches
There is no doubt the star skill-position players will dominate the coverage of Super Bowl XLVI. With two former Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks facing off for the Lombardi Trophy for the first time, it makes sense Tom Brady and Eli Manning will be the center of attention. Then there's salsa-dancing Giants WR Victor Cruz and his Hail Mary-grabbing teammate Hakeem Nicks on the outside, with slot machine Wes Welker and big-time TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez making plays for the Patriots.
Ask the players involved in the game, however, and the notion that the household names are the ones who will make the biggest impact goes out the window. Instead, they say it is the big guys up the middle, not the flashy ones lining up under center or outside the numbers, who will be the difference between victory and defeat.
"The trenches are important every game. We honestly feel that's where the games are won and lost," Giants OG Chris Snee said on Monday afternoon during the team's session with the media.
Many will look at that statement with a feeling of skepticism, especially given how the New York offensive line played in its last game. The Giants ran for just 3.3 yards per carry in their overtime win vs. the 49ers in the NFC championship game, while Manning was sacked six times and hit on six other occasions. Snee said his unit didn't do as well as it wanted to do, but that doesn't change its mentality to the game.
"Eli got hit quite a bit, and we still won the game, so people might call me a liar on that part," Snee said. "We honestly feel we need to set the tempo and out-physical a very physical (Patriots defensive line)."
On the other side of the ball, the Giants' defense knows from experience it must dominate the trenches. When it faced the Patriots four years ago in Super Bowl XLII, the New York pass rush took over the game, sacking Brady five times and not allowing a Patriots running play to gain more than nine yards. Its game plan will be similar again this coming Sunday, as a belief that pressure up front will limit the chances Brady has of finding Welker and his star tight ends down the field.
DE-LB Mathias Kiwanuka suffered a fractured left fibula in November 2007 and didn't have a chance to get any of those hits on Brady the last time these teams met in the Super Bowl. This time around, he'll be counted on to makes plays in the middle of the field. Like Snee, Kiwanuka said the game can be decided by which team's line dominates the other.
"It's just heart," Kiwanuka said about what it takes to win battles in the trenches. "There's not a whole lot of different responsibilities you can have, when you're talking about gap integrity up front for an interior defensive lineman. It really is about who wants it more and who's going to go get it."
Whichever side wins up front and allows its headline-making players to excel will likely get what both teams came to Indianapolis for — a championship.
— Eli Kaberon
Belichick, Coughlin had 'great working relationship' as one-time Giants assistants
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, whose teams will square off in a super rematch of the 2007 Super Bowl, don't have a lot in common. They are, however, Bill Parcells disciples who were on a coaching staff together with the Giants from 1998-1990, when Belichick was the defensive coordinator and Coughlin was the WR coach.
In his Monday news conference, Belichick, unusually loose and lighthearted as far as a Belichick press conference goes, discussed his close relationship with Coughlin from their time together in New York.
"We worked together every day in one-on-ones and seven-on-sevens," said Belichick. "... As an assistant coach, it was the best relationship I have ever had with another counterpart, in terms of Tom saying this coverage against this pattern is really hard. He would ask me: If we run a route this way — if we stem it versus run it straight — what gives you a bigger problem? ... It was not only helpful for us, but it transcended the units that we were working with. Really, it was a great working relationship."
Belichick praised Coughlin's coaching style — disciplined, consistent, detail-oriented — all traits that could be used to describe himself.
Coughlin echoed similar sentiments about Belichick.
"There was a spirit of cooperation; we helped each other," Coughlin said. "... We would take advantage in training camp of any opportunity to work against each other — whether it be red-zone work, whether it be one-on-one. ... I think it was a very good thing for our staff, to be honest with you, because our cooperation was outstanding."
— Arthur Arkush