FOXBOROUGH — Receiver Aaron Dobson has been on the practice field all week, but he isn’t sure if he’ll be in uniform for the AFC Championship game Sunday at Denver.
The rookie, who aggravated a stress fracture in his foot against Buffalo Dec. 29 and sat out last Saturday’s game against the Colts, said Friday he’s feeling better, but taking things one day at a time.
“It’s frustrating, but I’m trying to improve, keep getting better, keep rehabbing and keep doing what I have to do,’’ Dobson said.
The injury first flared up against Denver in Week 12, and Dobson missed the next three games. He returned in Week 16 against the Ravens, then pulled up in the first half against Buffalo chasing a deep pass.
He did not practice during New England’s postseason bye week or the days leading up to the divisional game with the Colts, returning Wednesday as the Patriots began preparations for the Broncos. He was officially listed Friday as questionable for Sunday.
“It was hard just to watch my team battle [Indianapolis] without me but they pulled it out, so I’m glad I get another opportunity hopefully to get back on the field this Sunday,” Dobson said.
Dobson said he’s made sure to study his playbook and take mental reps, doing everything he can to stay sharp. When he returned against Baltimore, there was some rust to knock off in terms of timing and returning to game shape, but “nothing too crazy.”
A healthy Dobson could be a big asset for the Patriots’ offense. As the team’s best deep threat, he does a lot of his work outside the numbers, while teammates Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Austin Collie work the middle of the field. Having Dobson could prevent the Denver defense from crowding the middle of the field.
Dobson had 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns in 12 regular-season games.
Three Patriots were listed as questionable, including punter Ryan Allen, who has practiced in a limited capacity all week after being forced from last Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury. Dobson and fellow rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip/concussion) were also questionable.
The only Patriot ruled out Sunday is reserve linebacker Steve Beauharnais, a seldom-used rookie who missed Friday’s practice with an illness, same reason given for Wednesday practice absences by Tom Brady and long snapper Danny Aiken, who both returned the next day.
Beauharnais has played in only two games this season.
Beware of ‘Omaha’
Anyone who has watched a Broncos game on TV this season has no doubt heard quarterback Peyton Manning shouting at the line of scrimmage. “Omaha! Omaha!” is part of almost every Broncos’ offensive pre-snap, it seems.
Manning’s verbal onslaught is partly meant to confuse the defense. It can be effective: The Chargers jumped offside five times in last Sunday’s playoff game, giving the Broncos 5 yards every time.
“You can try to listen for some of the stuff that he’s saying, see if it repeats and if it holds true, but if you play the game of, ‘I’m going to try to guess what he’s saying,’ you’re just not going to win in that situation,” said Patriots safety Steve Gregory. “Our focus has just got to be on what we’re doing, what we’ve game-planned for, and what we’re expecting to do out there to try to stop them.”
Another defensive key will be how late in the snap count the Patriots position themselves. Doing it too early might give Manning valuable information. Better to keep it hidden, if possible, until the last second.
“That’s the whole disguising, the cat-and-mouse game that’s played. We’ll have to be on top of what our plan is,” Gregory said. “If you watch the way they play and how successful they’ve been, I don’t think anybody’s really gotten it down 100 percent on which [way] is right. It’s a chess match.”
Business as usual
With Colorado recently legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and some of his players were asked about the temptation that might exist with this trip to Denver.
Because of the time zone and altitude difference, the Patriots were scheduled to fly to Denver Friday afternoon, after the week’s final practice.
“It’s a business trip. Nobody is going to care about that,” running back LeGarrette Blount said. “Bill told us about it, he basically told us, ‘Don’t go out there and be stupid.’ [That’s] really good advice.”
Belichick, obviously not thrilled with the line of questioning, said, “I think we know what the NFL policy is on that,” before directing the questioner to take the matter up with the league.
Brady was asked if he thought he or any of his teammates would be tempted to smoke.
“Hopefully not,” Brady said. “This is a very important game for us and it’s a business trip.”
Injured right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who broke his leg and was limited to eight games, was named the Patriots’ recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. The honor, voted by teammates, goes to the player who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration. Vollmer and the other 31 team winners will be recognized March 17 at the 36th Ed Block Courage Award banquet in Baltimore . . . Blount clarified the pronunciation of his last name. “The ‘o’ is silent. It’s ‘blunt,’ ’’ he said.