Gronk sees room to grow
TE ‘can be more effective’
FOXBORO — The clock is ticking on a Rob Gronkowski breakthrough.
The Patriots superstar tight end has delivered in some big moments this season, most notably making a pair of long receptions in the fourth quarter of a thrilling win over the Chiefs, but overall has not been the dominant force that regularly terrorizes opposing defenses.
In what seems like a weekly routine, Gronkowski stood at his locker yesterday and entertained questions about the dip in his productivity.
“Obviously, I can be more effective, for sure,” Gronkowski said. “But what I’ve been doing, putting practices together, just been working hard, just been doing what I’ve been asked to do by teammates, coaches. Just got to keep doing that and keep sticking to that.”
“I can grow in the pass game, definitely. I can grow in the run game even more, at times. Just whatever it is. Just got to go out there and play my best football.”
Two weeks ago, Gronkowski seemed elated at the podium when he was about to make his return from a 27-day layoff between games. And there were positive takeaways in his outing against the Jets, including a 34-yard touchdown catch between two New York defenders. It was a vintage Gronkowski grab.
Last week against the Vikings, however, Gronkowski struggled to get anything going. He caught three passes for 26 yards. On a 15-yard reception over the middle, Gronkowski took a hard shot to the leg from Vikings safety Harrison Smith. He appeared hobbled afterward, and briefly checked out of the game.
Gronkowski saw only four targets in a Patriots offense that leaned heavily on its backfield, which combined for a whopping 45 touches. Julian Edelman and James White were the lone passcatchers who received more than four targets.
“Any time that (Gronkowski) is out there, I have so much confidence in everything he does,” quarterback Tom Brady said yesterday. “If they don’t cover him, he gets it. If they cover him, it gives other people opportunity. Our offense the other night was a lot of different guys getting it. And that’s a good way to play offense.”
Gronkowski is averaging nearly 20 fewer yards per game than he did a year ago (77.4 to 58.9). At his current pace, Gronkowski is on track to finish with 766 receiving yards in 13 games. Not since his rookie year has Gronkowski played more than 13 games and finished with fewer than 1,000 yards.
Opposing coaches still are wary that a monster game from Gronk is coming.
“He’s still a major force in their offense,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “I know this: we have to make sure we do a good job with him with however we do it, because he’s one of those guys when all of a sudden you think he’s being quiet and the next thing you know he has two or three touchdowns and 100-plus yards and just absolutely cuts your heart out on the defensive side.”
But does Gronkowski believe that type of performance is on the horizon?
“Hopefully it all comes together,” Gronkowski said. “Throughout the week, I’m putting the work in, just been grinding it out. So we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.”
This is Gronkowski’s first trip to Miami in quite some time. He was suspended for last year’s Week 14 affair, a surprising 27-20 Patriots loss, and was on injured reserve when the Pats handled their business in a 35-14 victory over the Dolphins in the 2016 regular-season finale.
Gronkowski played in the Week 17 loss at the Dolphins in 2015, but caught only two passes for 18 yards.
Hampered by ankle and back injuries for most of this season, Gronkowski finally is off the injury report and hoping to deliver a big-time performance before the postseason arrives.
“We had a good week of practice, I had a good week of practice,” Gronkowski said. “Just been working, grinding, just trying to get better every week and do what I need to do to go out there and compete and make plays on Sundays.”
WORKING IT OUT: Rob Gronkowski loosens up during a recent practice. The Patriots tight end hopes to be a big part of the offense tomorrow against the Dolphins.