Patriots

Gronk’s preseason activity part of new approach

Gronk’s preseason activity part of new approach

There’s a saying attributed to Tom Brady: "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you've ever got."

I don’t know if he said it first or if it’s even a phrase worth hijacking, but there’s probably a kernel of truth there. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t something that Rob Gronkowski’s had whispered in his ear this summer.

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On Saturday, Gronk was famously on the field for the first time in a preseason game since 2012. He didn’t get any touches and played just 14 snaps before calling it a night. But his presence was noteworthy in that he was ready to play and did so despite the fact the game meant nothing.

Why the change from preseasons past?

A big reason -- but probably not the sole reason -- is because Gronk’s been working with Brady’s body coach, Alex Guerrero. Both Brady and Guerrero believe strongly that the best preparation for live football is playing live football. And Gronk hasn’t really done that in the past whether because of injury or design.

On Saturday, Brady was asked about Gronk’s presence on the field and answered, “Different times of your life you try different . . . different types of experiences force you to do different things and I’m just proud of his effort.”

Gronk’s 2016 was cut short by disc surgery that came after he was landed on in New York. But Gronk also missed a game after being hammered by Seahawks safety Earl Thomas two weeks before the injury against the Jets.

Whether either of those injuries would have been prevented by a different training regimen is debatable. But Brady and Guerrero believe strongly that learning to fall and training the body to absorb violent hits rather than tense up as they occur makes a difference. So too does muscle pliability and hydration. The weight training that the Gronkowski Bros. were reared on by their father Gordie absolutely helped them get to the NFL, but you have to mix in a resistance band once in a while, it seems.

The light’s gone on for Gronk who earlier this summer acknowledged, “It felt like it was that time in my career where I just really needed to focus on it and go to the next level or else I could’ve possibly been out of the door. So just wanted to take it to the next level and keep on going."

You can’t be immunized from injury, but Guerrero’s had success turning a number of injury-prone Patriots -- from Willie McGinest through Julian Edelman -- into pretty durable players. We’ll see if it takes with Gronk.

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EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

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EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

0:55 - Patriots playing great as they stream roll the Raiders but Koppen explains that Belichick will knock them down as he strives for perfection. Also talk about how it takes a couple months into the season for the coaches and players to learn each other again.

5:40 - Stephon Gilmore playing excellent lined up against Michael Crabtree. Malcolm Butler bounces back but gives up the only score to Amari Cooper. Koppen suggest Butler’s contract situation might be affecting his play. 

7:50 - All in on the Patriots defense yet? Giardi and Koppen discuss the defensive play and the upcoming offenses the Patriots will be facing.

10:30 - Dan Koppen talks about job security in the NFL and if he ever worried about somebody else taking his job, and the cutthroat nature of the Patriots. 

13:50 - Tom Brady picking apart the Raiders and Jack Del Rio’s defenses throughout his career. 

17:45 - A debate about Patriots backup quarterbacks and if Matt Cassel was actually a good NFL QB. 

21:20 - A few game notes: Rex Burkhead’s fumble vs. the Raiders, LaAdrian Waddle filling in for Marcus Cannon. 

Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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