Patriots

Gronk opens up on college back injury, retirement thoughts

gronkowski.jpg

Gronk opens up on college back injury, retirement thoughts

Rob Gronkowski -- unanimous All-Pro tight end, Super Bowl champion, lover of parties -- was almost never known to the world at large. 

As he explains in an excerpt of his new book "It's Good to Be Gronk," which was posted on TheMMQB.com on Wednesday, he nearly retired after suffering a back injury while working out at the University of Arizona.

Not only had a ruptured disk made life in general difficult for Gronkowski, who said that his legs felt as though they weighed "500 pounds each" due to nerve damage that resulted from the ruptured disk, but his father had purchased an insurance policy that would have paid Gronkowski $4 million before he graduated college if he opted to retire from football for health reasons.

Doctors told Gronkowski that he could rehab in order to fix his back, or he could have surgery, which would eliminate his chances of playing his junior season for the Wildcats in 2009. 

"Now I had to hope that by working crazy hard in rehab, I could fix my back in time to play that season," Gronkowski wrote. "There was another option, though: I could retire and collect the $4 million insurance, tax-free, at the age of 19 . . . but that would mean I couldn’t play football anymore. I did the calculations, and at four percent annual interest I could make $160,000 a year without touching the $4 million principal. But I didn’t want the easy money. I wanted to earn it, playing football. Maybe a lot of people would take the money and run, but I looked at it as quitting. I was happy playing football and didn’t want to give that up. So I decided to try physical therapy. It was a long shot, but I had to try."

It didn't work. In Arizona's second week of practice, Gronkowski tried to run a few routes and undid whatever progress he had made during his rehab. He later went under the knife, and was forced to watch his teammates play the season without him.

"During the first three weeks after surgery, I couldn’t do anything but walk to class and sit in a recliner," Gronkowski wrote. I was fragile, and every wrong move sent sharp pain up my spine and down my legs. I was supposed to be the man, the best tight end in college football. Instead I was facing the possibility that I might never have full use of my legs again no matter how hard I tried."

By mid-December Gronkowski was making progress again and doing some running. It was then that he was once again faced with a difficult decision. He could retire and collect the $4 million, stay in school for his senior season, or enter the draft as a junior, which he had planned on doing with his older brother and Arizona teammate Chris Gronkowski.

Because juniors had to declare for the draft by mid-January, Gronkowski had a month in order to try to figure out whether or not he was in good enough shape to be selected by an NFL club. Trainers told him that he could potentially recoup enough athleticism to be considered an average athlete at his position in the NFL. Potentially, they told him, he could make a full recovery and be an above-average athlete at tight end. 

That was enough for Gronkowski. 

He turned down the insurance policy, declared for the draft, and was taken in the second round by the Patriots, celebrating wildly with his family after hearing his name called. 

"We hooted and hollered until the Patriots called back and told me to get off the stage," Gronkowski wrote. "Right then and there we let the NFL and the Patriots know you better watch out! The Gronks are coming to town, and we are going to bring it!"

Patriots Talk Podcast: Matt Cassel explains what it takes to earn Tom Brady's trust

Patriots Talk Podcast: Matt Cassel explains what it takes to earn Tom Brady's trust

Michael Bennett's suspension, Tom Brady's expectations, and the hierarchy in the AFC are among the topics Tom E. Curran and former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel discuss in the latest episode of Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast. 

2:46 — Tom Curran is joined by Matt Cassel to discuss the Patriots one-game suspension of Michael Bennett. How do organizations determine a punishment for altercations and how does a player acting out affect the rest of the team?

13:41 — Matt talks about the perfection Tom Brady expects on the field (from everyone) and how that relates to N'Keal Harry being reintroduced into the Patriots offense.

21:01 — Curran wonders what it is that new or young receivers consistently mess up as they try to learn the Patriots offense. Matt gets into the Xs and Os.

24:49 — Is 'laces out' really the golden rule when it comes to place kick holding? Cassel questions this andtalks about his experience as a holder.

29:31 — Tom and Matt give their picks for second-best team in the AFC. One of the contenders may shock you (hint — it's in the Patriots' division).

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Josh Gordon absent from Patriots practice, but Tom Brady could get familiar faces back

Josh Gordon absent from Patriots practice, but Tom Brady could get familiar faces back

FOXBORO — The Patriots could see some shuffling among their offensive weapons on Monday night down in Jersey.

Josh Gordon was not present at the start of Thursday's practice after suffering a knee injury against the Giants last week. Gordon didn't immediately leave for the locker room, instead taking a seat on the sideline stationary bike and pedaling for an extended period. But the fact that he wasn't around for the start of Thursday's workout could be an indication that he's facing an uphill climb to get on the field against the Jets.

The Patriots were without both Gordon and Phillip Dorsett for most of last week's game as Dorsett dealt with a hamstring injury. Dorsett was on the field Thursday and spoke to reporters Tuesday, showing some optimism that he wouldn't be unavailable for much longer.

Dorsett might only be one part of the reinforcements heading for Tom Brady's huddle Monday. Rex Burkhead — who missed the last two weeks and was limited in Week 4 with a foot injury — was also back on the practice fields Thursday. After rolling for 50 snaps with undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski last week, the Patriots could have more veteran experience on the field in prime time at MetLife Stadium.

The Patriots could also have a couple new roster additions in uniform a few days from now. They signed tight ends Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson this week, potentially adding enough depth to allow Josh McDaniels to roll with some of the two-tight end sets the Patriots have turned to in the past. Starter Matt LaCosse suffered a knee injury last week that kept him out of Thursday's practice and could keep him off the field on Monday, but Tomlinson and Watson could complement what Ryan Izzo gives the team as its top option at that position.

Tomlinson, in particular, is a fascinating addition in that he has the ability to play in the backfield as well as in traditional tight end roles. With both Patriots fullbacks — Jakob Johnson and James Develin — on injured reserve at the moment, perhaps Tomlinson sees fullback-style blocking assignments if he's in uniform against the Jets.

"He’s a bigger guy," Bill Belichick said Thursday. "Probably more of a . . . you know, bigger, has blocking ability. He has been in the backfield. He’s played on the line of scrimmage. So, I don’t know. We’ll see how that all plays out."

Watson, meanwhile, would likely serve in more of a "move" tight end role if LaCosse can't go.

If Brady looks around the huddle Monday night and sees Dorsett, Watson and Burkhead — to go along with old standbys Julian Edelman and James White — then that would probably qualify as a welcome sight for a quarterback who so values experience.

THURSDAY'S INJURY REPORT    
WR Josh Gordon Knee/Ankle DNP
TE Matt LaCosse Knee DNP
RB Rex Burkhead Foot Limited
S Patrick Chung Heel/Chest Limited
WR Phillip Dorsett Hamstring Limited
WR Julian Edelman Chest Limited

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