BLOOMINGTON, Minn. ( - Doug Pederson plans to have his old friend Brett Favre talk to the Eagles before Super Bowl LII on Sunday.

Not to be outdone, Bill Belichick brought back some Patriots royalty on Thursday during New England's practice at Winter Park.

In the middle of a special teams portion of the session, former nose tackle Vince Wilfork appeared at midfield and was chatting with James Harrison, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.

Belichick quickly ended the practice and had his players circle at midfield to where Wilfork discussed his four Super Bowls with the Patriots with the key message being focus.

“He's a great leader for us, team captain 11 years,” Belichick told pool reporter Nicki Jhabvala. “A lot of friends here on the team, some new faces. But a guy that was very well-respected and had tremendous leadership on the team. It was good to see him.”

On the field, the big news at the Pats' practice was the return of superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski from the leagues' concussion protocol.

Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. (concussion) also returned to practice while cornerback Malcolm Butler (illness) and safety Brandon King (knee) were also full participants after practicing on a limited basis Wednesday.

After having their final padded practice on Wednesday, the Pats were in in shells and helmets Thursday in a two-hour session.

“It's a long year but we're in a routine, we do what we do,” Belichick said. “So part of getting ready for the game is training for the game that week. We kind of have stayed pretty much in our own routine.”

The coach claimed his team was a bit sharper as it settles into the Bold North.

“A little better than yesterday,” Belichick said. “We got a few things cleaned up. So I think we're getting a little closer each day. Hopefully, we'll be at our best on Sunday.”

Friday will be an even lighter practice, although kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen will have a session at U.S. Bank Stadium to get used to things while Saturday will be a gathering of family and friends for a team picture.

“There's a lot to deal with,” Belichick said of Super Bowl week. “We have distractions all year long, so we've dealt with a lot. We just try to maintain focus on our job and whatever the outside stuff is, minimize it. We have to deal with it sometimes, depending on what it is, but we try to minimize it and try to stay focused on our job.”

-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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