FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots got a boost Friday as both inside linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork returned to practice, giving New England full attendance as it prepares to tangle with the Ravens Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Coach Bill Belichick noted the return of Mayo, who suffered a sprained right MCL in the Patriots' Week 1 triumph over the Bills and remains doubtful for Sunday's game, provided a nice jolt of energy for his team.
"That gives a good lift for everybody to see him back out there," said Belichick. "It was good to have him in uniform."
A smiling Mayo entered the locker room in his blue No. 51 practice jersey and showed no signs of a pronounced limp. With a prognosis that suggested he'd be out as long as six to eight weeks, it's an encouraging sign for team and player that he was able to put on the pads, even for Friday's typically light session.
And Belichick stressed that Mayo is working hard in his recovery.
"Jerod always works hard," said Belichick. "He's worked hard from the day he's been here. He's the first guy in the building, and last one to leave, and he's working the whole time, too. He doesn't spend half the day playing dominoes and that stuff. He works hard. He does. He's here with a purpose."
Asked what Mayo is able to do as he recovers, Belichick added: "He works all day. He's getting treatment, doing things with his upper body, doing tape work, grabbing [linebackers coach] Matt Patricia on stuff, [special-teams coach] Scott O'Brien -- whatever it is. He's a hardworking player. I have a lot of respect for Jerod, everybody does. Just being elected captain in the second year, and the leadership, and support he has on this team, every day he's impressive."
Linebacker Pierre Woods, whose locker neighbors Mayo's, said it was nice to have a defensive captain back on the field.
"Looking great," Woods said with a smile. "It was nice to have everyone out there."
Wilfork's return suggests he could still suit up for this Sunday's game, though he remains questionable with a sprained left ankle suffered in Sunday's win over the Falcons.
Belichick spent time tackling questions on how exactly the team makes decisions on injured players, particularly ones like Wilfork who missed practice time during the week.
"I think we have a few guys that will probably be closer to game-time decisions, guys that maybe didn't practice one of the days earlier in the week -- or maybe both of them -- and then they go out there today, and that's good," said Belichick. "We'll see where they're at tomorrow and make a call on that on Sunday. Sometimes after they go out and do something today, they realize tomorrow or Sunday, it doesn't improve much and they're not ready to go. Other guys, that's kind of the start of further healing and by Sunday they are ready to go. Truly, the term questionable, that's what it is. Just because they were out there today, that doesn't really say where they're going to be tomorrow, or, more importantly, the next day. We'll just see how it goes on a case-by-case basis."
Maroney: 'Feeling better'
Laurence Maroney likes to keep the mood light, so after joking about getting a new bionic leg after a thigh injury chased him from last Sunday's game against the Falcons, the fourth-year running back declared himself ready to go for this week's matchup with the Ravens.
"I'm definitely feeling better," said Maroney.
Asked if he was going to play this weekend he added, "I don't see why I wouldn't."
Pressed about the specifics of the injury, the oft-injured Maroney preferred to look forward.
"I don't remember," said Maroney. "It was a run play, the guy made a nice hit it was big at the time, but I definitely got over it. It definitely feels a lot better and I'm expecting to play. I really don't think I'm not going to play."
Maroney and his fellow running backs are looking forward to the challenge this weekend.
"They're the best," Maroney said of the Ravens' rush defense. "That's definitely a chance for the running backs to show we're as good as them They're No. 1 in [rush defense], so let's see what we can do against the No. 1 defense. It will let us know as a running back group where we stand."
Let's get physical
One of the prevalent themes in Foxborough this week was how physical the Ravens are and how the Patriots will prepare for that.
Maroney joked he was stocking up on painkillers in anticipation of this week's clash.
"We're expecting a 60-minute game, a physical game," said Maroney. "It's not going to be an East-West, outrun-them type of game. I got my Tylenol ready, because there's going to be headaches after this game."
Maroney knows if he gets the ball there's a good chance Ray Lewis's No. 52 could be greeting him near the line of scrimmage.
"It's one of those things where, you're going to have to bite that mouthpiece hard," said Maroney. "Buckle up, go get it. One thing about it, you never have to worry about [Ray Lewis] not hitting you. If you want to know if Ray Lewis is going to hit you hard, then, yes, he's going to hit you hard. You can get that out the window.
"That's the one thing you can't control. You can only control how hard and how physical you're going to play. I don't feel like I'm going to quit and [the Ravens' defense] ain't going to quite hitting me, so I'm not going to quit running, and none of the other backs will quit running."
Belichick downplayed the physical talk.
"Every game's physical," said Belichick. "We don't go into any game and say, 'There won't be any contact in this game.' Every game's physical."
More from Belichick
Belichick was witty and insightful at his final media briefing of the week.
On Randy Moss and his efforts in last week's win over the Falcons: "I thought he showed a lot of toughness last week. I think that's one of the stronger performances I've seen. He was hurting. He had a will and he played through it. I know he's doing a lot better this week than he was last week, but he showed me a lot of toughness in that game. He's been tough, but I thought that was really It was a pretty special performance, going over the middle, blocking, catching short passes, taking a lot of hits, making first downs, and he was making a lot of them. I thought it was a real good performance."
On if we'll see a pink hoodie this week to join Patriots players who will don pink-colored accessories to raise awareness for breast cancer: "I think that's something that we've all been affected by -- one way or another -- family or friends, or friends of friends, in varying degrees of closeness. It's a cause that, in this organization, we're all behind. I think what it represents. I think it's a great statement by the league, and by the players, and all of us that are putting our support behind something that hopefully can be better for everybody going forward. I don't think I'll be in a pink hoodie though, no."