Gronk sees room to grow

TE ‘can be more ef­fec­tive’

Boston Herald - - SPORTS - Twit­ter: @Kev­inRDuffy BY KEVIN DUFFY

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.”

NANCY LANE / BOS­TON HER­ALD

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.

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