The Latest: Rams hold practice outside at Falcons' facility
ATLANTA (AP) - The Latest on Super Bowl 53 (all times EST):
The Los Angeles Rams opted to practice outside on the grass fields at the Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. The weather cooperated and coach Sean McVay was happy with the decision.
"It really was (the plan to go outside)," McVay said. "We were flexible with it, but I think just having the ability to go outside and get on this surface, we felt like it was going to be a little bit better on our bodies, and the weather allowed us to do that, so it was a great day."
The NFC champions started with a walk-through before stretching and then held a 1-hour, 10-minute practice. The sun set and the temperature dropped to 47 degrees by the time the Rams finished at 6:06 p.m.
"Yeah, it went down quick," McVay said. "That was why we were trying to stay on a tight schedule. We got a lot of good work in, a lot of things we can coach off of. The main thing was I thought the guys came out and competed the right way and gave us a chance to get better today."
McVay called it a spirited practice.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein (left foot) and safety Blake Countess (foot) both were limited. Zuerlein did not kick, but will on Friday.
"The plan all along has been for him (to kick) tomorrow," McVay said. "We're right on track. He'll kick (Friday).
Countess was upgraded after being listed as out of the team's walk-through on Wednesday. He appears on schedule to play Sunday.
The Patriots returned to the field for their Super Bowl practice in Atlanta, wearing sweats and workout clothes with no helmets during the 1 hour, 20-minute walkthrough.
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower did not attend the session because of an illness and was the lone player absent. Coach Bill Belichick said Hightower will be evaluated on Friday.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who was limited on Wednesday with a calf injury, was a full participant in Thursday's workout. Belichick expects him to practice Friday and be available moving forward.
"If something happens tomorrow, that will be a different story, but I'd say he looks all right, Belichick said of Brown.
Most players wore sneakers, though quarterback Tom Brady was in his cleats and wore a helmet to use the coach-to-player communication system. Belichick noted that the team has already gotten in five practices since the AFC championship game and will have another full-speed session on Friday. So he opted for the walkthrough Wednesday.
"We got a lot out of the walkthrough today and were able to run more plays at a slower tempo," Belichick said. "So that's the advantage. Practicing (at full speed) you get better tempo, you just get fewer plays."
The starting offense and defense worked at opposite ends of the field against the scout team, focusing on third-down, red zone and goal-line situations.
The Patriots also reviewed all the kicking situations - field goal, kickoff and punt. The specialists did not kick in the walkthrough, having kicked Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They planned to do so again Friday as well.
Right guard Shaq Mason was wearing a long-sleeve shirt with the logo of Georgia Tech, his alma mater.
Georgia Tech hung a "Welcome Back, Shaq" sign outside the locker room at their facilities, and Belichick also had Mason give the team a welcome message on Monday, similar to what linebacker Elandon Roberts did when the team practiced at Roberts' alma mater, the University of Houston, before the Super Bowl in the 2016 season.
"The Georgia guys are not thrilled being at Georgia Tech," Belichick quipped, referring to starting center David Andrews and running back Sony Michel, who both played for the University of Georgia. "But that's all right. They'll get over it."
New England Patriots left tackle Trent Brown was excused from the team's final media session before the Super Bowl to be with his wife, who had a baby.
A team spokesperson confirmed to The Associated Press that Brown's wife was in town in the Atlanta area, and the offensive lineman would play in the game Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
The 6-foot-8, 380-pound Brown was acquired by New England last April from San Francisco and started all 16 games at left tackle for the Patriots this season after previously playing right tackle for the 49ers.
Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth is the recipient of the NFL Players Association's Alan Page Community MVP award for his work in the Los Angeles area.
Whitworth was not at the union's news conference, and his wife, Melissa, accepted the award and the $100,000 check that will go to the Big Whit 77 Foundation.
Former Falcons tackle Mike Kenn introduced Melissa Whitworth and noted her husband went "above and beyond in serving his city." Whitworth donated a game check to helping people in Thousand Oaks who were displaced by fires -the Whitworth family was one of them- and to survivors of victims of a mass shooting in the area.
"This means a lot to our family," Melissa Whitworth said, "but not as much as it's about the community of Thousand Oaks. I've never been through anything quite like the month of November in Southern California. Twelve people were murdered 5 miles away, and hour later our entire city was on fire."
She noted there were firefighters "whose chose to save our house when theirs were burning."
On a video, Whitworth called the honor "something so special because of community involvement." He hoped the money would "make lasting change in our community."
As chairman of the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee, Rodney Barreto is eager to show the NFL what it has been missing.
Next year the game will be played in Miami for the first time since 2010, and Barreto predicts visitors are "going to be blown away." He led a Miami group attending this week's game in Atlanta to brainstorm and promote the Super Bowl's return to South Florida.
Miami has hosted 10 Super Bowls, which is tied with New Orleans for the most, but fell out of favor because of an aging stadium. The 2020 game was awarded to Miami after Dolphins owner Stephen Ross embarked on a $550 million stadium renovation that included a canopy and improved seating.
As a result, Barreto predicts Miami will again become a popular choice with the NFL and will host a game every five years.
The center of activity for the 2020 Super Bowl will be downtown Miami. Barreto notes the area has changed since it last hosted a Super Bowl, with new science and art museums, new hotels and improved rail service.
What hasn't changed is the balmy weather in the winter. Barreto's forecast for next year's game: "Clear skies and 72."
The Vince Lombardi Trophy will be part of a championship celebration at the end of Sunday's Super Bowl that will include Joe Namath and Emmitt Smith.
Before the trophy is presented to either the Los Angeles Rams or New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a former Super Bowl champion from the winning franchise whose identity has not yet been determined will carry the prize on-field. He then will hand it to Smith, the MVP of the game 25 years ago.
Smith, in turn, will bring the trophy to Namath, the MVP of the third Super Bowl 50 years ago. Broadway Joe then will turn it over to Commissioner Roger Goodell for presentation.
Players from the winning team will line either side of a red carpet as the trophy, named for the Hall of Fame coach of the Green Bay Packers, champions of the first two Super Bowls, is paraded.
Larry Fitzgerald, Drew Brees and Travis Kelce are among NFL stars rewarding military veterans with trips to the Super Bowl.
Through USAA, they will be joined by Christian McCaffrey, Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Falcons coach Dan Quinn and former Browns great Joe Thomas in honoring the veterans for their service.
Fitzgerald is bringing Army Lt. Jameson Lopez to Atlanta. Lopez was responsible for coordinating more than 300 combat missions with the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces.
"Teaming up with USAA and The Pat Tillman Foundation to honor military veterans this year has been a very rewarding experience for me, first with My Cause My Cleats, and now with a Super Bowl ticket giveaway," Fitzgerald said. "I had the opportunity to meet Jameson Lopez earlier this year and I'm happy to be able to help send him on a trip of a lifetime to the Super Bowl."
Brees, teaming with the USO, is rewarding a Saints fans, hardly a surprise. Retired Army Sgt. Patrick Gray won several medals for his work in Afghanistan.
"As a lifelong Saints fan who has served our country for 20 years, this is simply a small way to say thank you," Brees said.
Kelce's recipient of a Super Bowl trip is former Army Sgt. Patrick Benson, a Bronze Star winner who founded the nonprofit War Horses for Veterans after he left the service.
"Sgt. Patrick Benson first served his country in the Army and now he continues his service by helping fellow veterans as they return home," Kelce said. "In honor of his service, I am pleased to award, with the help of USAA and the VFW, a trip to the Super Bowl to Sgt. Benson."
Quinn, a recipient of the NFL's Salute to Service Award, worked with TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) to honor Zachary Boland, a marine private who passed away in 2016.
"Zachary Boland made the ultimate sacrifice, passing away during training, but his commitment to our country lives on courtesy of his father Bob, who served in the Army, and his brother Nathaniel, a current Marine," said Quinn. "It's a special privilege to team up with USAA and TAPS to award Bob and Nathaniel a trip to the Super Bowl."
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