INDIANAPOLIS — With the Patriots returning to the practice field on Wednesday, the team is entering the period of Super Bowl week that most closely resembles a normal week of pregame preparation.
"It's going to be like a regular Wednesday, Thursday, Friday for us from here on out, so hopefully we'll take those days of preparation and be ready to go," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his Wednesday-morning press conference.
Keeping in line with one of the dominant themes of the week, the first question involved the health status of TE Rob Gronkowski, who is out of the walking boot but still attempting to get his ankle healthy enough to play on Sunday.
"Rob's doing better, so we'll just have to see where he is today," said Belichick. "He's making improvement, getting better every day. We're just taking it day-to-day."
One of the Belichick's greatest challenges in this game will be keeping QB Tom Brady clean in the face of the Giants' fierce pass rush. Getting on the field again will give the Patriots a chance to work on protecting Brady, who was sacked twice by the Giants in Week Nine. The Giants recorded 48 sacks in 2011.
"They have great quickness up there, as well as power," noted Belichick. "They'll blitz inside guys and really knock the line of scrimmage back. When they move (Jason) Pierre-Paul and (Justin) Tuck and those guys inside in passing situations, they have great quickness in there, too. (Chris) Canty is a long guy who is kind of slippery in the pass rush. They play strong in the run game. They have a good combination of power, speed and athleticism."
So what does Belichick do to prepare his offensive linemen for the upcoming onslaught of Giants pass rushers?
"We try to move our guys around a little bit, and get them to play like the Giants play," said Belichick. "I don't know if anybody can play like the Giants play. They have so many talented guys up there. We do our best to simulate that. They try to bat some balls down, even in 7-on-7 when there is no pass rush. We get some guys up there at the line of scrimmage to try to distract the quarterback, and bat balls down, things like that, because they are so good at that, too."
Belichick addressed why the New England roster has changed so dramatically since these teams last met in the Super Bowl four years ago. But he was also quick to point out, if you survey the league as a whole, he thinks similar roster churning is the norm, not the exception.
"I think there is a pretty high level of turnover throughout the league over a four-year period, no matter what team you go to. You can look at the team we are playing, they have a few more guys than we do. Not all that many. I think that's common in the league. After four years, you are going to see that kind of turnover."
Belichick intimated that during the period of time when the Patriots' last stretch of dominance was winding down, when they won three Super Bowls in a four-year period, it was becoming clear that a roster overhaul was going to be necessary in the not-too-distant future.
"We certainly knew at the end of the 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 range, right in there, we could certainly see a lot of our key players aging," Belichick said. "We knew, sooner than later, we would have to replace some of those players. We ended up replacing quite a few in the last couple of years, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. That's just the way our team was. We won a lot of games with those guys in the 2003-07 stretch in there, but it doesn't last forever in football. Somewhere along the line, young players come in, and old players move on."
Belichick's Wednesday presser ended on a funny note, when he tried to avoid answering an ESPN reporter's question about the current state of the Pro Bowl, which has drawn its share of criticism recently for a lack of competition between teams.
"Uh, you know, what I'm going to say wouldn't be probably what I should say," said Belichick, choosing his words carefully in an effort to avoid getting into hot water with the league for bad-mouthing the Pro Bowl.
After a long pause, he then offered this: "What it was and what it is now is a lot different. I'll just take the Super Bowl questions."