FOXBOROUGH — Rob Gronkowski might make the trip to Buffalo, but it’s not likely the Patriots tight end will play in Sunday’s season opener against the Bills.
Gronkowski was officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Although he practiced all week, he was limited in his availability, including Friday. Gronkowski had multiple surgical procedures on his broken forearm, plus back surgery, since the end of last season.
Receiver Danny Amendola, who had also been limited Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury, participated fully in Friday’s practice and was listed as probable.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek was ruled out with a knee injury; he did not practice this week. The other four Patriots on the injury report are all questionable: receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), and defensive backs Nate Ebner (foot) and Duron Harmon (hamstring).
Three Bills — cornerback Stephon Gilmore, kicker Dustin Hopkins, and center Doug Legursky — were all ruled out. None practiced this week.
Eyes on Spiller
Despite starting a rookie quarterback, the Bills have plenty of options available on offense. None as dangerous, perhaps, as running back C.J. Spiller, who rushed for 1,244 yards last season, caught 43 passes, and scored eight touchdowns.
The Patriots defense will need to be aware of a handful of players when the Bills have the ball. Knowing where Spiller is at all times seems like a good place to start.
“Big challenge. You’re talking about a guy that touches the ball 80 percent of the time,” said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. “They’ve made it clear, that’s their guy, they’re going to try to get the ball to him in the run game and the pass game. And why wouldn’t they? He’s explosive.
“We’ve got to do a real good job up front, just be responsible for the gaps, understand what he does.”
Spiller’s best individual game against the Patriots was the most recent one, when he combined for 131 yards (70 rushing, 61 receiving) in a 37-31 Patriots win at Gillette Stadium last November. He has yet to score a rushing touchdown in six career games against New England, but does average 5.5 yards a carry.
As Wilfork pointed out, though, Buffalo’s offense isn’t entirely Spiller. With a rookie quarterback in EJ Manuel and a first-year head coach in Doug Marrone, the Patriots will need to be prepared for just about anything.
“We’re going to have be on our game, our ‘A’ game, to slow this team down, especially with the backs that they have, [Fred] Jackson and Spiller, and then with [receiver Stevie] Johnson outside, and [tight end Scott] Chandler, and the offensive line,” Wilfork said. “Everything we’ve seen so far with these guys, they’ve been playing some real good football, up-tempo, run inside and outside.
“It’s going to be a challenge, it’s a division opponent. Trust me, our hands are full. I’m pretty sure they’re going to give us everything we can handle.”
Bill Belichick spent about a day and a half in March working with head coach Brian Kelly and the rest of the Notre Dame coaching staff, at the request of Kelly, breaking down game film from the Irish’s 2012 season, Yahoo! Sports reported Friday.
Though Kelly is a Chelsea native, he didn’t get to meet Belichick until earlier this year, at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Initially, Belichick offered to come to South Bend to scout some of Notre Dame’s prospects, but then Kelly asked if he wouldn’t mind looking at game film and discussing things with him.
Notre Dame runs a good amount of 3-4 defense, and its system isn’t all that different from the Patriots’ because Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco had previously worked for Al Groh at Virginia, and Groh has worked with Belichick.
“Bill is very aware of our defense because there’s great similarities,” Kelly told Yahoo! “It was a great way for him to communicate some things with us using the same nomenclature.
“It was a substantial amount of time for a guy like Bill Belichick to be involved watching and communicating with us.”
The Notre Dame staff embraced Belichick’s advice, Kelly said, and slightly changed tactics.
Working for a living
Sunday marks the 39th NFL season opener for Belichick as a coach, head or assistant, as he essentially has spent his entire adult life on the sidelines in various cities across the league.
But pre-coaching, he did have some odd jobs.
“High school, college, I had plenty of them,” Belichick said Friday. “I was fortunate that I was able to work at my dad’s football camps, which was 2-3 weeks over the summer. It was a great experience for me; it was a summer job that was a week off from my other summer jobs, whether that was waiting or working for Mayflower Moving or whatever it happened to be.
“It was good because I had an opportunity to work with a lot of college coaches, other guys who eventually became pro coaches.
“It was a lot of good coaches, working with kids in high school, junior high school — not that I was like a full-fledged coach or anything, but just the experience of being around it, seeing a lot of things, hearing coaches talk, exchange ideas, seeing different coaches coach different techniques at the same position. It was a great experience.”
Rivalry in rear view
Linebacker Brandon Spikes, a star at Florida, doesn’t have any extra venom for Manuel because he played at Florida State.
“He’s in the NFL, so I’m sure he’s an elite athlete,” said Spikes. “I don’t really pay attention to the years, we’ll take the same approach as any other quarterback. We’ll try to get after him.
“I didn’t want to get into [Manuel being a former Seminole]. I know what he’s capable of doing.”
Spikes wore a sweatshirt that said “Harvard Law” in big, crimson block letters, with “Just Kidding” printed in much smaller type underneath.