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By PFW staff

Walking boot off, but 'Gronk' sheds little light on status

INDIANAPOLIS — The record-breaking season of Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was one of the bigger factors behind New England's road to Super Bowl XLVI. Now, the question is: Will Gronkowski, nine days removed from suffering a high ankle sprain against the Ravens in the AFC championship game, be a factor when the Patriots and Giants clash on Super Sunday?

Gronkowski appeared at media day on Tuesday without the walking boot he had been wearing since suffering the injury. He said the boot was off for good. However, much like his head coach, Bill Belichick, on Monday, Gronkowski shed little light on his chances of playing in less than five days.

"We are going day-by-day," he said. "We are making new steps every day and feeling better every single day. That's a positive sign. You just want to keep going in the right direction. I want to be out there with the team, obviously. ... I am just taking it step-by-step and getting better every single day."

Gronkowski returned to the game briefly after landing awkwardly on his left ankle following a 23-yard reception late in the third quarter against the Ravens. He has not practiced since, however, leaving his status up in the air. Much of what makes New England's offense so difficult to defend is the presence of Gronkowski and fellow TE Aaron Hernandez, who combined for 169 receptions for 2,237 yards and 24 TDs during the regular season. If "Gronk" can't go on Sunday, New England's championship aspirations could be dealt a significant blow.

Hernandez and many of the other Patriots on Tuesday sounded comfortable that Gronkowski would be in the lineup on Sunday, although Gronkowski admitted he was anxious.

"Who wouldn't be anxious to be out there?" Gronkowski said. "It's the Super Bowl, the biggest stage in sports every single year. I am really anxious, so whatever the training staff has to offer, I listen to all of the advice and everything just so I can get out there and help the team."

It's a safe bet Patriots fans and Belichick share Gronkowski's anxiety.

— Arthur Arkush

 

Evans rips Holmgren, praises Belichick for building teams

Heath Evans could be bitter about Bill Belichick. He allowed Evans to walk in free agency after four of his most productive seasons with the Patriots.

But Evans, now a budding star on NFL Network, says if he ever was in charge of building a team, he would do it the way Belichick has with the Patriots. Evans was a member of the Patriots' last Super Bowl team in 2008, facing the Giants. Now, only seven players who played in that game will play this Sunday.

Four years, 46 new players. That team was considered to be on the verge of being called the greatest NFL team ever, an eyelash away from 19-0. This year's Patriots team went 13-3 in the regular season and is 2-0 in the playoffs.

The Patriots might not be the most likeable team, and Belichick is Enemy No. 1 in a lot of circles, but Evans thinks the coach does things the way they have to be done.

"You can't argue with Bill's success," Evans said. "You see these cyclical teams: They get hot and they die off. Well, the Patriots have been hot since 2001. Even in their bad years, they go 11-5 and miss the playoffs in 2008. The Giants would have died to be 11-5 this year. "

The way Evans would not run a team is the way Mike Holmgren did in Seattle. Holmgren was Evans' coach for his first four seasons in the NFL, from 2001 to 2004, before he signed with New England. Evans said he was "ready to retire" because of the clubhouse cancers he encountered in Seattle, and he blames Holmgren for fostering that kind of environment.

"Bunch of selfish guys," Evans said. "Everything from racism to 'I want the ball' to 'It's all about me.' Bad locker room."

Evans said what separates Belichick from Holmgren — and from almost any other head coach he has been around — was accountability.

"Mike Holmgren didn't coach his star players," Evans said. "It's really kind of true. The most talented football teams I was ever on were those Seahawks teams.  But they were complete failures. A lack of consistency, a lack of discipline. Mike was mad at Shaun Alexander for skipping a non-mandatory minicamp, but instead of calling Shaun or reaming him out, he finds me buck naked in the shower and reams me out in front of everybody else. Because I was the 'yes, sir, no, sir' Marine corps daddy guy.

"I wish I would have done it my first year, but I finally said, 'For four years you have mistaken my respect as weakness. Don't ever talk to me that way again.' It really changed my relationship with him for the last three weeks of my career in Seattle. I couldn't get out of there fast enough."

And leave he did, signing with the Patriots (after being cut by the Dolphins after only six games in 2005) and playing three years in New England, racking up some of his best career rushing numbers in four seasons there. But the way Evans tells it, individual achievements have nothing to do with the reason he respects Belichick so much. It was the way that he put pressure on every player never to make mental mistakes. Physical ones happen, and Belichick can live with those. But not knowing what you are doing on a given play? Simply not tolerated.

"I don't remember ever getting reamed out for making a physical mistake," Evans said. "But I remember getting railroaded for not doing what I was supposed to. But it was (that way) for everybody. Tom Brady, all the way down.

"As a young player, you see, 'Hey, I am not the only one.' There's a consistency level that frees your team to be a team and a family. When Brady is getting reamed out just like the 53rd man on the roster, you feel a tightness and a oneness with the group. But when your star players are untouchables and you see them make mistake after mistake after mistake and there is no calling them out or accountability, the young players look back and say, 'I don't respect that man.'"

That approach has changed the way Evans approaches his new job. He spent last week in Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl, doing analysis for the network. While he was there, he found himself scouting the prospects with a distinctly Belichickian eye, thinking about all the characteristics he'd want if Evans was putting together a roster.

"I'd look at character, I'd look at intangibles and I would look at work ethic," Evans said. "Prime example: Quinton Coples, this big, awesome (defensive) end from UNC. I doubt Bill would touch him with a 10-foot pole. All the talent in the world but had this nonchalant attitude all week during the Senior Bowl.

"I was watching and I thought, 'You know ... he has all the ability in the world, but I would be highly surprised if he is in the league in four years.' Truth of the matter is, he'll probably get picked in the first 10 picks (of the draft) and someone will let him hang around for 10 years, but if he doesn't change his work ethic and learn how to attack the game, he will not be successful on the NFL level."

The influence of Bill Belichick is far-reaching, and Evans thinks he knows why.

"It all comes down to discipline, structure and humility. People say, 'What do you mean humility with Bill Belichick?' Humility to me is a guy laying it all on the line so that others can get the praise. That's what Bill does. It works."

— Eric Edholm


Peyton getting healthier; no timetable for Irsay chat

If this is an awkward week for Peyton Manning, he's not showing it.

All smiles during a brief interview in the NFL Media Center with a group of about 15 media members, Manning spoke briefly about his situation with the Colts, rooting for his brother Eli in the Super Bowl, the city hosting the event and Manning's own rehab from neck surgery.

On whether he and Colts owner Jim Irsay will meet soon to discuss the quarterback's future with the team, Manning said that will happen down the road at a time to be determined later.

"Jim and I will talk at the right time," Manning said, sporting the still-visible scar from his neck procedure in the fall. "He's busy this week. Actually, he and I will have dinner (Thursday) along with some other NFL people; the host owner has a dinner every year.

"But there's nothing to talk about (right now)."

Irsay has said that any decision pending on Manning, who is due a $28 million bonus mere days prior to the start of free agency on March 11, along with a $7.4 million base salary for 2012, will depend on the QB's health. Manning said he continues to get good reports from team doctors.

"I am working hard," he said. "I had a good rehab session today. I'll continue to work hard. I am making progress. The doctors are encouraged. I'll keep doing that.

"I am on track with what the doctors are telling me to do. I am doing what they say. This is a fun week."

And as for the possibility of retirement?

"I have no plans on doing that," Manning said.

Manning threw Tuesday to Colts WRs Anthony Gonzalez and Blair White and will continue to work, even though the Patriots are currently occupying the Colts' facility for Sunday's Super Bowl against the Giants.

Eli Manning will face off against Tom Brady, in many ways Peyton Manning's rival for the past decade. Peyton has helped Eli out during the busy week with tickets and dinner reservations, playing host to his little brother.

"Eli is good," Peyton said. "I just talked to him briefly. I got him reservations for 20 at St. Elmo's (restaurant) for him and 20 of his linemen (Monday night), so I am sure that was a healthy one.

"He sounds good. We are out of the ticket business. A lot of my teammates helped out with that. A lot of the tickets are spoken for. He's excited. I am excited. I have been proud of the way he has played. I'll be looking forward to cheering him hard on Sunday."

Manning also is out of the prediction game for Super Bowl XLVI, at least for now.

"It's early, it's Tuesday," Manning said with a smile. "No question who I am pulling for. I want the Giants."

Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who is close with both Irsay and Manning, believes that if Manning is healthy, he will be back in Indianapolis.

"It's a medical issue," Dungy said. "I have talked to Jim Irsay enough, and he's not worried about the bonus money or finding ways to do it. If (Manning) is healthy enough, he's the quarterback."

— Eric Edholm

 

Webster: Giants will disrupt Patriots receivers' timing

Super Bowl XLVI pegs two of the worst statistical passing defenses in the league against each other. The Giants' "D" ranked 29th overall against the pass during the regular season (255.1 passing yards allowed per game); the Patriots' 31st-ranked pass defense surrendered an alarming 293.9 yards per game.

With both passing offenses in the top five, something has to give, right?

At media day on Tuesday, Giants LCB Corey Webster discussed the obstacles of trying to slow down New England.

"It's kind of hard to match up with how they do because they line up people anywhere. You just have to be cognizant of where their playmakers are at all times, know where they are on the field, and hopefully disrupt some timing between the quarterback and the receivers, and that will help us out."

Translation: The Giants are unlikely to shut down the Patriots; instead, being as physical as possible and knocking receivers — including big, athletic tight ends — off their routes will be paramount.

Webster said making Patriots QB Tom Brady uncomfortable will be equally important. In the Giants' Week Nine win over New England, Brady was under constant duress, and his play suffered as a result.

"I had a coach - Coach (Nick) Saban - that always told me, 'If you show me a good defensive end, I'll show you a good cornerback.' He just said that to say that it goes hand in hand. For a rusher, you've got to have a good back seven. I think what we did — everything didn't start out as smooth as we would have liked it to, but it's not a perfect world. So, I think we did a great job of getting better all year long, and I think our secondary is doing great, doing wonderful. I think we're one of the best secondaries here. We might not have started the season that way, but we are great."

Webster thinks going up against the Giants' talented WR corps in practices this season has made the "D," on whole, a better unit. After barely escaping the 49ers to advance to Indianapolis, New York's "D" is in store for a significant step up in class from San Francisco's offense this weekend.

— Arthur Arkush

 

Giants rookies hoping to make most of opportunities

In February of 2011, CB Prince Amukamara and WR Jerrel Jernigan took to the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for what essentially was a job interview. As two of the participants in the NFL Scouting Combine, Amukamara and Jernigan had to prove to the entire football world in Indianapolis that they were strong enough, fast enough and smart enough to be good pro players.

Nearly a year later, a few things have changed, but not much. Amukamara and Jernigan were back Tuesday on the field at Lucas Oil doing interviews for Media Day, now as members of the Giant. This time their jobs were secure, but with the football world returning to Indy for Super Bowl XLVI, the two rookies again have a lot to prove.

"It's a good opportunity. I'm pretty much blessed to be on this team," Jernigan said. "My first year, my rookie year, to be in the Super Bowl; we just got to win it now."

Rookies have made big impacts in recent Super Bowls. In Super Bowl XLI, Devin Hester of the Bears returned the game's opening kickoff for a touchdown. Three years later, Saints P Thomas Morstead kicked onside to start the second half of New Orleans victory. And last February, Packers sixth-round pick James Starks was the team's leading rusher in the Super Bowl XLV win vs. the Steelers.

To reach this year's big game, the Giants have already received some important contributions from their rookie class. At no point was that more evident than in the NFC Championship game vs. the 49ers, when LB Jacquian Williams — a sixth-round pick — punched the ball out of San Francisco PR Kyle Williams' hands in overtime, setting up the game-winning field goal. Jacquian Williams said that all season long he and the other rookies believed they'd be able to come through when asked.

"We knew, especially on special teams, that we'd contribute to the whole season," said Williams, who added he wasn't invited to the Combine and had never been at Lucas Oil Stadium before. "We work hard and all that. "

The Giants' rookie class isn't loaded with star players, and the group as a whole has battled injuries. Amukamara, a first-rounder, broke his left foot the day after he signed his contract following the lockout. Second-rounder Marvin Austin has been on injured reserve since August. Jernigan, a third-round pick, has missed games because of a bruised hip.

The road wasn't easy. But considering where they were 12 months ago, the Giants' rookies are glad they've come full circle and returned to Indianapolis.

"It's definitely been a roller coaster; I've never been through so much in one year," Amukamara said. "Our rookie class has really been contributing. ... I think we're having a pretty good year."

— Eli Kaberon

 

Report: Jacobs says Burress wants to be a Giant again

According to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, Giants RB Brandon Jacobs said that a former teammate, Jets WR Plaxico Burress, will be in attendance at Super Bowl XLVI to watch his old team take on the Patriots. Perhaps the more surprising revelation is that Burress deeply wanted to rejoin Big Blue for the 2011 season, according to Jacobs, and as a soon-to-be free agent, may well sign with the Giants for the 2012 season.

Burress chose to sign with the Jets last July after they offered him three times as much guaranteed money as the Giants did, according to the report, as he was coming off a 20-month jail sentence for possession of an illegal weapon. But, according to Jacobs, it wasn't easy for the Super Bowl XLII hero, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass for the Giants, to leave his old team.

"Oh, no question, I know he did. I know he wanted to come to the Giants," Jacobs said. "We just didn't think it was going to be able to be done financially. But he may be (back) next year, who knows?"

Why Burress would want to sign with the Giants is fairly obvious, particularly after an 8-8 season with Gang Green that left him watching the playoffs on his television set. Why the Giants would want to re-sign a wide receiver who will be 35 by the time the 2012 season begins is less clear. They already have two wide receivers, in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, who combined for 2,728 receiving yards and 16 touchdown receptions in 2011. Nicks is signed through 2013, and Cruz will be a restricted free agent in 2013, according to Sportrac, so both wideouts should be with the team for quite a while.

That being said, the Giants' next-best receiver in 2011 was Mario Manningham with 523 receiving yards, so perhaps Burress could be a No. 3 or No. 4 wideout for them. Although Burress had just 45 receptions for 612 yards in 2011, he remains a viable threat in the endzone with his 6-foot-5 build. He caught eight touchdowns for the Jets. Even though he failed to impress in his rematch against the Giants, catching just three balls for 34 yards, Jacobs said he was simply underutilized in the Jets' offense.

"He's a much better wide receiver than (45) catches, I tell you that," Jacobs was quoted as saying.

Of course, it would be a somewhat awkward return for Burress, who left on a sour note, having blasted, in a Men's Journal article, the reactions of both QB Eli Manning and head coach Tom Coughlin to his shooting incident.

Either way, Jacobs doesn't see Burress rejoining Gang Green, hinting at a lack of respect for QB Mark Sanchez's abilities, as well as a disgust at the state of the Jets' locker room.

"I don't see him back with the Jets next year at all," Jacobs said. "I don't know what he's thinking, but I don't see that. They've got a lot of things going on over there, and I don't know if he wants to be part of that."

The former Steelers product posted two 1,000-yard seasons during his four years with the Giants, as well as 33 touchdown receptions, before limping off the field with a poor performance in 2008 and an even shakier performance off the field.

— PFW staff

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