'Twinkle Toes' Gronkowski? In Belichick's eyes, anyway

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'Twinkle Toes' Gronkowski? In Belichick's eyes, anyway

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski has plenty of nicknames. There's the obvious abbreviation of his last name. There's what Tom Brady calls him, borrowing from Marshawn Lynch: "Beast Mode."

Bill Belichick has also gotten in on the nickname game for his massive tight end, apparently. What it lacks in intimidation it makes up for with . . . sparkle?

Gronkowski was told on Wednesday afternoon that when Belichick broke down his 33-yard touchdown against the Jets, he made a point to highlight Gronkowski's high-stepping into the end zone.

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"Oh, he liked that? It didn’t seem like he liked it," Gronkowski said with a smile. "He says I've got twinkle toes, so I’ll take Twinkle Toes. I like when I have twinkle toes -- that means I’m feeling good. I’m feeling it."

Gronkowski finished the game with 6 catches for 83 yards and two scores, and if he stays healthy he's on pace for 78 catches for 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Those numbers would put him in contention for a first-team All-Pro nod, which would earn him the max $10.75 million for 2017 that's been written into his incentive-laden contract for this season.

Even if he isn't an All-Pro, 1,200 receiving yards would also trigger the max value of the deal. Seventy catches, 1,000 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns would trigger the second tier of Gronkowski's incentives, paying him $8.75 million. Sixty catches, 800 yards or 10 touchdowns would pay him $6.75 million -- up from the minimum of $5.25 million he's  guaranteed for this season.

Numbers aside, part of what has made Gronkowski's season so impressive is that he's been an impactful run-blocker and pass-protector when asked. On Dion Lewis' first carry of the game against the Jets, Gronkowski sealed a defensive lineman and allowed Lewis to bounce outside for nine yards. On a goal-line run in the second quarter, Lewis ran right behind Gronkowski to get into the end zone. 

During training camp, as Gronkowski returned to the field after season-ending back surgery, the physical aspect of the game didn't necessarily look like one of his strong suits. He was on the ground more than reporters are used to seeing, and there were questions as to whether or not at this stage of his career he would be able to be the well-rounded tight end that has made him such a dynamic weapon in years past. 

After five games, it's clear he has his feet under him. 

"It's definitely part of the game, a big part of the game," he said. "You want to be able to block. It helps in the play-action passes big time to get open. It just helps overall. It helps with the running game to be able to block and you want a run game. You don't just want a pass game. 

"It takes time. When you get to training camp you've got to build your foundation. You’ve got to build that base and taking all of those hits in training camp and it progresses throughout the season. Just building the base throughout training camp and you just want to be the best blocker that you can be to help out the team."

A hard-nosed blocker who occasionally flashes twinkle toes? Though he may poke fun, Belichick's no doubt pleased he has himself a tight end who can do both.

"Yeah, he said I had twinkle toes," Gronkowski said. "I took it as a compliment . . . I like twinkle toes."

You can watch Belichick's breakdown of Gronkowski's celebration -- he also looked at his team's execution against a two-man Jets rush, its hustle on kickoffs, and a 58-yard net punt by Ryan Allen -- on Patriots.com.

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Jimmy Garoppolo fills in for Tom Brady, earns nod from Patriots

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Jimmy Garoppolo fills in for Tom Brady, earns nod from Patriots

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady missed two practices last week and was limited for one other, leaving Jimmy Garoppolo to pick up the slack at quarterback. There was no one else. 

With no other passers on the active roster or the 10-man practice squad -- they released Taylor Heinicke from the p-squad earlier this month -- Garoppolo garnered reps as both the starter and the scout-team quarterback with Brady out. His efforts to make the most of those extra snaps earned Garoppolo some recognition from the Patriots as one of the team's practice players of the week last week. 

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Others named practice players of the week were offensive lineman Ted Karras, practice-squad defensive backs Damarius Travis and David Jones, and practice squad defensive lineman Angelo Blackson. 

Players can earn the player-of-the-week honor for any number of reasons. They may have been given the assignment of mimicking a key player from that week's opponent. They may have gone above and beyond in some fashion in order to make their on-the-field work stand out. Or, as was seemingly the case with Garoppolo, they may have seen their workload increase and managed it well.

Last week's practices may have also served a purpose beyond preparing the team for the Jets. It would have given the Patriots staff yet another extended look at Garoppolo and how he handles the offense when it's his to run. They obviously know him well, but any opportunity to see him as the guy may in some small way re-affirm their feelings on his ability to one day serve as the franchise's next starter. 

Whether it plays out that way or not is a separate story. But judging by the coaching staff's decision to award him in some small way for his work, the volume of snaps Garoppolo saw last week didn't go unappreciated.