Light is still handling a heavy load.
COLUMN: PATRIOTS NOTES
FOXBORO - When the Patriots used the 17th pick in April's draft on Nate Solder, who played left tackle at Colorado, a lot of folks thought it spelled the end here for veteran Matt Light.
Light had mostly capably protected Tom Brady's blind side since entering the NFL with the Patriots in 2001, including last season when he started all 16 games for the seventh time in his career while being named to a third Pro Bowl.
However, Light had turned 33 in June, undergone offseason shoulder surgery, and was lacking a contract when the Patriots opened training camp in late July. Somewhat surprisingly, he and the team quickly came to terms on a two-year deal worth up to $12 million.
Both sides are pleased the relationship has continued.
"Matt has played very well," coach Bill Belichick said yesterday. "He's had a solid year. He missed a little bit of that first week of training camp, but after that he's done everything that everybody else has done. Real experienced player that's seen a lot of football, seen a lot of good guys out there, competed well.
"Matt works really hard every week to be ready to go. He's a very good competitor, smart guy, has good technique, has a lot of experience out there. We'll need it this week."
The Patriots play the Broncos on Sunday and a Denver defense led by a couple of outstanding pass rushers in rookie linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who'll line up across from Light.
"From my point of view, it's been like that for 11 years," Light said of the stern challenge he seems to face on a weekly basis.
In the last few weeks, Light has been matched up against the likes of Trent Cole of the Eagles, Dwight Freeney of the Colts and Brian Orakpo of the Redskins. He has more than held his own against those elite pocket disrupters.
"I'm healthy (and) I'm happy about that," Light said simply of the secret to his success.
More props for Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after catching six passes for a career-high 160 yards and two touchdowns against the Redskins on Sunday, in the process setting an NFL single-season record for TD receptions by a tight end (15 and counting).
"I'm actually not amazed," fellow second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez said. "He did it all camp and he's been able to do it all year. We knew he was a freak of nature and he's almost impossible to guard because he has so much size and everything. So I'm not sure anyone on this team is surprised."
Hernandez hasn't had a bad season himself despite having to deal with a nagging knee injury suffered in Week 3 that caused him to miss two games and slowed him considerably in a bunch of others.
"Getting better, and getting better every week," Hernandez, who ranks third on the team in receptions (59) and TD catches (five), said of his health and his play.
While Gronkowski has been making headlines, quarterback Tom Brady is pleased to have both young tight ends at his disposal.
"Rob does a lot of great things for us; Aaron does equally great things," Brady said. "The most important part is they've been out there every day in practice. I know Aaron was banged up a little bit earlier this season, but his consistency and dependability since he's been out there in practice has really improved.
"He's a very excitable kind of guy and he's got a great attitude. You talk about a guy that loves football - no one loves football more than Aaron Hernandez. He's a great teammate and I love being out there with him."
Setback for Chung?
Belichick was asked prior to practice about the status of safety Patrick Chung (foot) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee), both of whom have missed the last five games with injuries.
"They're doing better," he said. "When they're healthy, they're ready to play. If they're not ready to play, then they're not ready to play."
That may be the case with Spikes, one of 15 Patriots who was a limited participant at yesterday's practice, but it appears Chung has suffered a setback. The third-year pro, recently spotted in the locker room wearing a walking boot on his banged-up right foot, sat out practice for the first time since Nov. 10.
Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back/foot) missed his seventh straight workout.
The Broncos were missing half of their starting secondary in safety Brian Dawkins (neck) and cornerback Andre Goodman (concussion). Dawkins' backup, David Bruton (Achilles' tendon), also didn't practice.
Warren misses another year
While the Patriots don't have any players who played for the Broncos, there are four ex-Pats drawing a paycheck in Denver.
Lonie Paxton is long snapping while offensive lineman Russ Hochstein and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite are backups. Defensive lineman Ty Warren is on injured reserve.
This is the second straight season the 30-year-old Warren, who was released by the Patriots on July 29 and signed by the Broncos three days later, won't play a down due to injury.
"He's a tremendous young man and it's unfortunate, but you know he had a triceps injury that was repaired medically," first-year coach John Fox said. "He's in our building every day working hard and his weight looks good. He's working out really hard to rehab and we're impressed and looking forward to getting him back on the field next season."
Safety Sterling Moore, who was cut from the 53-man roster Saturday, was signed to the practice squad yesterday. Moore has appeared in five games this season, making three starts. ... The Patriots had free agent defensive end Cedric McKinley in for a workout. McKinley was previously a member of the Vikings' practice squad.