During Patriots and Falcons practices this week, there is one pool reporter assigned to each who is allowed access to the entirety of the session. Jarrett Bell of USA Today was with the Patriots on Wednesday and Thursday, and he relayed that Bill Belichick is expecting special teams ace Nate Ebner to be ready to play despite recovering from a concussion. Belichick also explained that the Patriots are using a pair of receivers to replicate Julio Jones in practice: Michael Floyd and Matthew Slater. Here's Bell's full report.
HOUSTON – The Patriots practiced in shells and shorts for roughly two hours at the University of Houston, with extensive time allotted for a multitude of situational special teams plays as they prepare for Super Bowl LI. On Wednesday, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen worked only briefly with the team before heading to NRG Stadium to kick. On Thursday, Gostkowski and Allen were on hand for the entire practice, with special teams drills sprinkled in throughout the session.
“Yeah, we kind of cleaned up some of those situations,” Belichick said.
Every player on the roster again participated in the practice, with no apparent setbacks for any of the various players nursing injuries. Nate Ebner, the safety and special teams ace, again worked in a red jersey that signals the need to avoid contact, as he returns from a concussion.
That Ebner was back on the field after returning to practice on Wednesday, was a positive sign as he seeks final clearance from concussion protocol.
Said Belichick, “I expect him to be ready to play in the game.”
Belichick also expects that his team could have its hands full with Atlanta Falcons all-pro receiver Julio Jones. That explains why multiple receivers – including Michael Floyd and Matthew Slater – have been wearing the two No. 11 gold jerseys that the Patriots use to designate Jones for snaps against the first-team defense. Other key Falcons are represented by just one jersey.
Why two jerseys for Julio?
“That’s such a key guy for us, the routes and all that,” Belichick said. “We have two guys doing it so we won’t wear one guy out.”
This underscores an important objective.
“You’ve got to know where he is on every play,” Belichick said.
The Patriots worked amid a humid 75 degrees on Thursday, similar to conditions the previous day. After practicing in recent weeks in New England’s wintry mix, Belichick embraces the opportunity for his team to get acclimated to the Texas heat to impact conditioning.
“For this game, it’s absolutely a factor,” Belichick said. “It’s a long game. It’s going to be hot, one way or another. Either they’ll open the roof and it’ll be warm or they’ll close the roof and all the lights and TV and people in there, it will be warm.”
Belichick said that regardless of the heat, the conditioning level of players is uniquely tested during a Super Bowl because of the length of the event.
“You’re taking a game that’s three hours and it’s going to be closer to four,” he said. “You’ve got to sustain that a lot longer. Mentally, you just understand how slow the game is, how long the halftime is, what breaks are in between. It’s going to take a lot more staying power in this game than in a normal game. With pregame warmups and all that, you’re looking at 5.5 hours. It just makes for a long day.”
At least one key Patriots player was seen putting in some conditioning work to prepare for just that.
When the first-team offense had a break, Tom Brady worked in a far end zone, running sprints across the field against the resistance of a band, pulling along a conditioning coach.