Gronkowski's over-the-top celebrations a shot of energy for Patriots

Gronkowski's over-the-top celebrations a shot of energy for Patriots

FOXBORO -- Patriots practice seemed dead at the start. No sun. No music. No energy. 

Players are used to having some kind of beat to warm-up to early in the day, whether it's country, or rap, or Bon Jovi blaring over the outdoor speakers. When nothing came on at the start of Sunday's practice, players wondered what the deal was. 

Eventually some music was introduced to the practice, but it wasn't until later in the day that the team was visibly fired up thanks to a spark from one of their most talented -- and most animated -- teammates.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski served the Patriots a shot of his own special brand of enthusiasm during an 11-on-11 period. He started by shaking free of Patrick Chung and picking off the tops of his cleats a hard-to-handle pass from Tom Brady for a touchdown. Excitedly, and perhaps not entirely aware of his surroundings, he chucked the football into a crowded community relations tent.

Four plays later, Gronkowski was back at it again. This time, he beat Jamie Collins to the back corner of the end zone for another acrobatic reception for a touchdown. He flung the football high into the air, and headed over to the crowd under the tent to high-five the same people he nearly pegged. 

Despite the steady rainfall, the hundreds of fans close by were roaring. 

"After that first play, I accidentally threw the ball and I wasn’t sure if I hit someone or not, but I didn’t," Gronkowski said. "It was all good. You know, making sure someone wasn’t paying attention or not. So then the next time I scored right there I just ran by, saw them all cheering, so I was like ‘Why not go and high-five them?’ So, they were all excited. It’s cool to get the crowd involved, get the energy up, and it felt like it did."

Not only was the crowd into it, but Gronkowski's over-the-top practice celebrations seemed to invigorate his teammates as well. 

When Jimmy Garoppolo took over at quarterback, it took him only two plays to find tight end Martellus Bennett running a fade pattern similar to the one Gronkowski had just executed. Bennett hung onto the pass despite tight coverage from safety Jordan Richards, and he mimicked Gronkowski's celebration from earlier, lofting the ball straight up into the air. Gronkowski ran over to his teammate for a flying side-bump, and Brady made his way over to congratulate Bennett as well. 

Three plays after that, Garoppolo found undrafted tight end Bryce Williams for a touchdown what seemed to be a nearly identical route. This time, almost the entirety of the Patriots offense mobbed Williams, including Gronkowski. 

"There’s energy every day, bringing it," Gronkowski said. "But I definitely felt like it ramped up when it came to team [drills]. But why wouldn’t it? I mean, it’s team. That’s when everything counts the most, but you’ve got to have energy throughout the whole time working on technique and individual drills. But I feel like definitely today when team hit it was a little more ramped up, which is good."

Gronkowski's ebullience flies because of his talent level. When you've already established yourself as one of the best tight ends in the history of the game, you're allowed to act the way he does. At one point, during a one-on-one drill, he laughed audibly and high-stepped into the end zone -- something that might not fly had it been, say, undrafted rookie tight end Steven Scheu. 

Gronkowski said he hasn't heard about any Patriots defenders being annoyed by his exuberance, although linebacker Dont'a Hightower chucked a football at Gronkowski's back after a touchdown celebration on Friday. 

He insists that when it comes to celebrations, there's an age-old rule applies for players on both sides of the ball: If you don't want someone celebrating, go ahead and stop them. 

"We understand they make a play, you know, you see them celebrating and it’s part of the competition," Gronkowski said. "If you don’t want them celebrating, make a play and stop them. If they don’t want us to celebrate, they’ve got to stop us, so it goes both ways and that’s what’s cool about it."

Given that Gronkowski is healthy and therefore about as uncoverable as it gets in the NFL, the celebrations -- and the emotional spike that tends to come with them -- will in all likelihood continue right through the remainder of training camp. 

Phil Perry can be followed on Twitter: @PhilAPerry

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

File photo

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."