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Defense is studying up

New QB Orlovsky presents challenge

Dan Orlovsky hasn’t started an NFL game since 2008 but Patriots coach Bill Belichick is impressed by the Colts QB. Dan Orlovsky hasn’t started an NFL game since 2008 but Patriots coach Bill Belichick is impressed by the Colts QB. (Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 2, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - For the second time in three weeks, the Patriots are preparing for a quarterback they have never seen. Against the Chiefs, it was Tyler Palko; this week it is the Colts’ Dan Orlovsky.

Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell announced Tuesday that not only had the team decided to fire defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, but that Curtis Painter, the Indiana native and third-year Peyton Manning backup who had started the last eight games, was being benched. Orlovsky would start instead.

A native New Englander and University of Connecticut alumnus, Orlovsky hasn’t started a game since 2008 with the Lions, though he has made three appearances for Indianapolis this season.

Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said it’s tough to prepare for a player you have little knowledge of, but he knows the coaching staff will uncover everything the defense needs to know before Sunday.

“It’s tough when you have a guy that you really haven’t seen much of and you have to dig and dig, but if that’s what we have to do, that’s what we have to do,’’ said Wilfork. “I’m leaving it up to Bill [Belichick] and those guys to find that stuff for us, which they always do, to make it a little easier for us.’’

Orlovsky is in his first season with the Colts, but Caldwell said he has been able to grasp the team’s offensive system pretty well. Whether it is Orlovsky or Painter under center, said Belichick, the offense looks like the Indianapolis offense usually does.

“Certainly we’ve scouted him prior to this year, but we’ve seen him this year in the Colts system, which is valuable because you can actually see him running their offense,’’ Belichick told Indianapolis reporters. “Is there a difference between them? Sure, but they are both very capable players, and they’ve both played this year in the Colts offense.

“They change plays, they adjust routes, they handle the check systems at the line of scrimmage and they’re both good pocket passers. Accurate, get the ball outside, down the field, and make touch throws inside. They’ve both been productive and I’ve been really impressed with both guys.’’

In his three late-game appearances with the Colts this season, against New Orleans, Atlanta, and Jacksonville, Orlovsky is 14 for 21 for 122 yards. He does not have a touchdown pass or interception.

The 28-year-old Orlovsky, who was born in Bridgeport, Conn., is best-known for one of the most unfortunate plays in recent NFL history, when he gave the Vikings a safety as a member of the winless Lions in 2009. With Detroit pinned against its own end zone, Orlovsky stepped out of the back of the end zone while scrambling.

Injury list grows

New England’s lengthy injury list got even longer yesterday, as the team added running backs Danny Woodhead (abdomen) and Shane Vereen (hamstring), both as limited. Vereen had hamstring issues during training camp and the early part of the season, but it is unclear whether this issue is in the same leg.

That brings the total number of players limited in yesterday’s session to 15, a group that includes safety Patrick Chung (foot), cornerback Devin McCourty (shoulder), receiver Chad Ochocinco (hamstring) and the top two centers, Dan Connolly (groin) and Ryan Wendell (calf).

Brandon Spikes (knee) and Sebastian Vollmer (ankle/back) did not participate in the day’s practice, which was held outdoors in shells and sweats.

For the Colts, defensive end Robert Mathis sat out, but his absence was listed as non-injury. On Wednesday, his defensive end partner, Dwight Freeney, received a day off for rest, but he practiced fully yesterday.

Indianapolis starting center Jeff Saturday (knee) also returned to practice after not taking part Wednesday.

One Gronk

While at one point it looked as if there might be three Gronkowskis on the field Sunday, there actually will be only one: Rob Gronkowski.

Dan Gronkowski has been released by the Patriots, and Chris Gronkowski is on injured reserve for the Colts after suffering a torn pectoral against the Saints last month.

“I was definitely looking forward to that,’’ Rob said. “But he’s on IR with the surgery. He’s doing well. Maybe next year I’ll get him.’’

Gronkowski has 11 touchdowns, which is a franchise record for tight ends. The NFL record is 13, shared by the 49ers’ Vernon Davis and the Chargers’ Antonio Gates.

Gronkowski has six TDs in the last four games, so he could well add to his total this week.

Brady honored

Tom Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November, the fifth time in his career he has received the monthly honor. Brady had three 300-yard passing games in November, completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,244 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions . . . With less than three weeks left before Pro Bowl voting ends, Brady is the second-leading vote-getter overall, with 873,424, and Wes Welker is fourth overall with 684,591. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads the way with 961,818. Brady and Welker lead the AFC voting at their positions, as do Gronkowski and Logan Mankins . . . The Patriots are 18-1 at home in December since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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