It would seem that reports of Rob Gronkowski’s potential demise are greatly exaggerated after the New England Patriots All Pro tight end dominated the Jacksonville Jaguars during Tuesday’s joint practice. Gronkowski collected six touchdowns and a seventh reception that set up a field goal in a drill and had what is universally regarded as his best day of camp.
Brady to Gronk in the red zone. Too easy. pic.twitter.com/UN4Hoa2qpk— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) August 8, 2017
Prior to Tuesday, Gronkowski had been relatively quiet with much of the media’s attention directed towards the ridiculous grabs by WR Brandin Cooks. The fact that TE Dwayne Allen played with the Patriots hurry-up offense raised additional red flags.
But even if Gronkowski hadn’t erupted on Tuesday, there shouldn’t have been any cause for concern.
“I’m good to go out there every play,” Gronkowski declared earlier in the preseason. “Whatever they need me to do.”
Gronkowski is returning from yet another back surgery and has been a full participant in camp, dating back to May. While the Patriots aren’t holding the tight end out of practice like they have been with players like WR Malcolm Mitchell and LB Dont’a Hightower, the coaching staff is trying to ensure that Gronkowski enters the 2017 season healthier than he was at the start of 2016.
Head coach Bill Belichick believes that Gronkowski’s current health is “about the same place he was” early in the 2016 preseason, but highlighted how the tight end “was injured in the Chicago practices” during the second week of the preseason. Injuries are always a risk and Belichick says there is “a long way to go” before the start of the regular season.
Nice grab by Gronk in double coverage for the score in 7's. pic.twitter.com/4Iu7TP0H5q— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) August 8, 2017
In other words, Gronkowski is currently able to play, but there’s no need to overutilize the oft-injured star and risk his availability for the start of the season.
There is no need for Gronkowski to take every snap during the preseason, especially with Allen needing all the help he can get to adjust to the Patriots offense. Now is the best time for Allen to learn about the hurry-up offense and then Gronkowski can take back the role in week 1.
In addition to limiting Gronkowski’s role in practice, it is safe to assume that the Patriots will hold him out of the preseason games. Gronk hasn’t suited up for a preseason snap since 2012 and there’s no reason to break that streak this year- just ask Belichick.
“If a player has a condition that there’s a history of or there’s a concern with, whatever that is, then we try to address it on the preventive end rather than sit in the training room and wait for somebody to come in,” Belichick said. “The idea is for the wellness to be on the front end of as much of these things as we possibly can. So, guys that are involved in more contact, like a lineman, for example, there’s certain things we do to train and I would say prepare them and try to keep them out of potential injuries and situations that we’ve identified. We try to stay in front of everything as much as we can...we try to stay ahead of those things so that they don’t occur.”
Gronkowski’s lengthy injury history and his experience in the Patriots offense allows the team to reduce his role in the preseason without seriously affecting his potential in the regular season. With players like Allen and Cooks in the middle of their first season with the team, and with other players like Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell looking to grow in their second year in New England, limiting Gronkowski’s targets in the preseason should pay off later.
The fact that Gronkowski is available to participate should be cause enough for celebration. There’s no rush for the team to get him back as the centerpiece of the offense.