Patriots

It's becoming clear Rob Gronkowski isn't ready to stop being 'Gronk'

It's becoming clear Rob Gronkowski isn't ready to stop being 'Gronk'

Is Gronk coming back? 
 
It’s a cotton candy conversation. Airy. Unsubstantial. Every bite dissolving into nothingness. Sugary sweet, bad for your teeth. 
 
There’s no denying it’s a question worth posing. He’s one of the best players to ever play his position and he’s done at 29? 
 
Obviously, the chance exists he decides being a retiree isn’t all it was cracked up to be. 
 
And Gronk is the one that keeps undercutting the decision Rob Gronkowski made in March. Every few days, a new fistful of bread crumbs teasing a possible return are tossed out and they are dutifully gobbled up and regurgitated. 

But what’s passing for concrete answers? That’s where the nothingness resides. It’s guessing, spitballing and maybes on the part of sources and it’s masquerading as information. It’s useless as the Yellow Pages. 
 
Pro Football Talk poobah Mike Florio reported Tuesday that “a source close to Gronkowski pegs his potential for a first annual unretirement at 40 percent.”
 
Basically, a coin flip. 
 
Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reported last month that, “The belief is that once the season gets going, and Gronkowski starts missing football, he will rejoin the team. It's not just a hunch, sources say; you can count on it.”
 
None of the speculation is bad for the business of Gronk Inc. It keeps his name in everyone’s mouth, especially during this soon-to-be completed NFL dead period. 

Gronk saying to Drew Brees, “Yeah, I’m coming back…” ? Pennies from heaven even if there was no context around his words. 

Gronk telling Rich Eisen, “I never had an August off in my life. So, it's gonna be a little different. That's when it's gonna start really seeing the change is when that comes around in August when I'm not in training camp; I might not know what to do with myself." 

Gronk working out with Tom Brady at UCLA: "Tom needs someone to throw to so, you know, he calls Mr. Reliable Robbie G the one and only! … I can’t really say how I’m going to feel about it when the games start rolling around and everything."

Everybody wants Gronk to come back. But it was Rob Gronkowski that retired from football. 

He’s the guy that, when I asked him during Super Bowl week about the “fun” quotient in 2018 veered into a treatise on the physical and mental abuse he’s subjecting himself to. 

Rob Gronkowski said, “To tell you the truth, just try and imagine getting hit all the time and trying to be where you want to be every day in life. It's tough, it's difficult. To take hits to the thigh, take hits to your head. Abusing your body isn't what your brain wants. When your body is abused, it can bring down your mood. You've got to be able to deal with that, too, throughout the season. You gotta be able to deal with that in the games.

"And no one realizes that, and everyone expects us players to be wide awake every single day, and it's like 'yo, i just took 50 hits to my head' — or not to my head, but I'm saying I just took 50 collisions, and then like the next day everyone wants you to be up. They want practice full speed, next week they want the game to be full speed, but they don't understand sometimes what players are going through with their bodies, with their minds. That's why I've been saying you see a shift in players in games where people are down the whole game, and then you see, all of a sudden, the next week it's like, 'How did this team just go from one switch to the other?'"

Rob Gronkowski seemed very, very ready to call it a career in February. After a joyless 2017 and a pain-filled season for most of 2018, when he finally got near the finish line and his health returned, he seemed both liberated and at peace with the choice he was making. 

That’s why all his hinting — inevitable, though I suppose it is — makes you wonder if it’s Gronk talking or Rob Gronkowski.  
 
And which one is ultimately going to make the decision on whether or not he returns? 
 
Retirement was a choice he seemingly made for his own good. Not just for the back and the knees, but the head. He decided he’d given enough and that the cycle of recovery then rebuilding his body in the offseason just to have it battered for seven months wasn’t worth it anymore. 
 
But if he’s already predicting the beginning of camp is going to give the itch and the start of the season is going to be a full-blown fever then reasonable Rob Gronkowski is already being overtaken by Gronk. 
 
It’s easy to envision the circumstances of his return. He cuts a deal to come back, jumps from the reserve/retired list back to the active list sometime around Halloween, works himself into shape and by Thanksgiving he’s on the field. He spares himself OTAs, minicamp, training camp and half the season. 

Would Bill Belichick sign off on that plan? Well, the relationship improved greatly in 2018 after the agitations of 2017, so it’s not like they were sideways when he retired. 
 
If “what’s best for the football team” is the measuring stick Belichick would use, a return by Gronk would qualify as a positive late-season development. 
 
But all of that assumes Rob Gronkowski isn’t ready to just be Rob Gronkowski yet. He still has to be Gronk, if not for himself, then for everyone that’s hopefully predicting his return.
 
A couple of months ago, I believed it was insulting to Gronk that people couldn’t respect his decision. As if he didn’t know his own mind and body well enough to make an informed call on his future. 
 
Now, he’s not only invited speculation that his announcement was fleeting, he’s the one that’s advancing it. Obviously, he can do what he wants. Watching him play has been a privilege and reporting on him is always fun, never boring. 
 
But if Gronk plays again, I hope Rob Gronkowski is at peace with the decision. 

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10 takeaways from Patriots vs Titans: Isaiah Wynn a wall in pass protection

10 takeaways from Patriots vs Titans: Isaiah Wynn a wall in pass protection

NASHVILLE – The product popped last week when the Patriots played the Lions in their preseason opener. This week in Nashville? Kinda messy.

The explanation for that is simple. Very few of the team’s best players took part on either side of the ball.

Among those on the DNP-CD list were: Tom Brady, Phillip Dorsett, Stephon Gilmore, Sony Michel, James White, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Rex Burkhead, James Develin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, David Andrew, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Michael Bennett and Lawrence Guy.

“A lot of the guys that practiced a lot (during the week) didn’t play tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “Guys that didn’t practice as much played a lot tonight so I think we had a really good evaluation of everybody.”

What was our evaluation? Come with! We’ll show you!
The Patriots left tackle position is going to be in unbelievably capable hands with ISAIAH WYNN. Playing in a game for the first time since blowing his Achilles last preseason, Wynn was a wall in pass protection, showed great feet in getting blocks at the first level and then looking for work further downfield and seems to just lock defenders up.  

I asked Wynn, “How did you feel you did out there?”

“Good,” he said. Then, as if remembering he better sound too satisfied, he added a beat later, “I still have plenty of things to work on though.”

The pace of the game was – at times – excruciating. It was a little bit of everything. An early PI challenge by the Titans (they lost as rookie Joejuan Williams was found to be on the right side of the law on a third-down pass breakup). A couple of injuries to Patriots (Derek Rivers hurt his knee and, sadly, it looks like it’s going to be a while for him. Again. Shilique Calhoun got dinged but appeared fine in the locker room). But more than anything else, it was the penalties. The Patriots had 12 called on them and the Titans had 10. That is attributable to less-experienced players on the field in some cases but the most significant penalty sequence of the night came late in the first half. First, tight end Lance Kendricks placed a Titan in a headlock when he was pass-protecting for Jarrett Stidham. The holding call resulted in a safety. Next, after the free kick, the Patriots had 12 men on the field defensively.

Speaking of defense, there’s a real collaboration going down on the Patriots sidelines. It appeared Steve Belichick called defensive plays in the first half and Jerod Mayo called them in the second half. Also, Patrick Chung – in uniform but not playing – was active in helping coach the secondary on a down-to-down basis, signaling in plays and seeming to help make calls.

Getting back to that free kick I mentioned? Jake Bailey, the Stanford rookie took it. And he hit it almost to Pluto, about 65 yards in the air. On Bailey’s only punt of the night, he hung it 54 yards and there was no return. Ryan Allen, God bless him, he’s not going down without a fight. He had a punt of 57 yards and dropped one of his two inside the 20. Bailey was the holder on field goals and PATs and Stephen Gostkowski missed his only attempt, a 40-yarder.

In two preseason games, Jakobi Meyers has caught 12 of the 14 passes sent his way for 151 yards and two touchdowns. And the balls he’s catching aren’t short little slants and outs. They are crossers in traffic and downfield passes as well. After watching him during practice and in two games, it’s clear he’s the real thing and he deserves to be a starter. Honestly, when N’Keal Harry returns from whatever’s ailing him and Josh Gordon joins the team and begins practicing, I’m going to be really interested to see if they can exceed what Meyers is doing. And not just exceed it for a time. Do it every day the way he has. It’s a fascinating story. During the game, longtime NFL personnel man Jim Nagy, who runs the Senior Bowl, stated plainly on Twitter that Meyers was “the best contested ball catcher in last year’s draft.” 

A great week of practice by Braxton Berrios was followed up by a modest game. He was targeted once and that pass was picked by Logan Ryan. The throw from Brian Hoyer didn’t have a lot of zing on it but Berrios was kind of floating upfield on his route as well which made it easy for Logan Ryan to undercut him for the pick.

Rookie running back Damien Harris worked his ass off with four catches for 23 yards and 14 carries for 80. He’s not an edge-of-your-seat kind of runner who’ll make spectacular moves but his meat-and-potatoes style is a nice fit. Reminds me a little bit of Benjarvus Green-Ellis.

I had no idea the Patriots had a player named Calvin Munson. But when No. 48 showed up on about eight straight plays defensively with pursuit, pressure or brilliant form tackling at linebacker I made sure to check. He was everywhere. And, mind you, that was against the Titans first offense.

How important to the team is Matt Slater? Both times the Patriots had a player spend an extended period on the field with an injury, Slater was the person who went out with the medical staff to – I’m assuming – lend some support to the player. Whether he was assigned that job or just took it on himself, I don’t know but nothing happens without the OK of Bill Belichick. He’s not going to sign off on guys just walking on the field whenever they want if someone is hurt. This is a role for Slater. Between this assignment and seeing Chung as almost a player-coach, it’s cool to see how empowering Belichick can be as a boss with some of his players.

Through two preseason games, Jarrett Stidham has performed exactly as advertised. He makes some incredible throws – a back-shoulder touchdown to shortish receiver Damoun Patterson was like a drone strike – and he gets a little skittish and can make some sketchy decisions. He had two near-picks that could have been taken the distance the other way.

Those throws and decisions can definitely be coached out of him if he’s willing. But the touch and accuracy? That’s a gift. I also liked his instincts on a pair of scrambles that picked up first downs. The issue he’ll deal with – as Jimmy Garoppolo did – is that the starters are better than the scrubs and if you find yourself on the field with them, they move faster and hit harder so spin-o-rama escape moves that work in August can put a quarterback in a sling in October.

The Patriots are off Sunday but back at it again on Monday and Tuesday getting ready for their first home game of the preseason. There are no more open practices this season so that party is over.

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Matthew Slater on Josh Gordon's return: 'Football is No. 2'

Matthew Slater on Josh Gordon's return: 'Football is No. 2'

Despite playing a sport that typically values third-down efficiency over empathy, Matthew Slater has no problem speaking up to be the voice of compassion inside the Patriots locker room.

Josh Gordon's reinstatement by the NFL on Friday is a complicated issue. How was it determined that Gordon is well enough to play? Is football what's best for him? How will the Patriots provide him with support when he returns?

But Slater broke it down more simply following his team's preseason win over the Titans in Nashville: When it comes to Gordon, football isn't what's most important right now.

"We are excited,” Slater said of Gordon's return. “I’ll say this: Football is number two. We want to see him first and foremost doing well as an individual, doing well as a man, and we want to support him however we can. We’re just going to take this one day at a time, which is all any of us can do. And we’ll see what tomorrow brings and then we’ll let the day after that worry about it when it comes around."

Gordon was a big-play threat any time he was on the field for the Patriots last season. He played in 11 games and led the NFL in yards per reception (18.0). He was suspended late in the year for violating the league's substance abuse policy, and though his NFL rights have remained with the Patriots -- they signed his restricted free-agent tender this offseason -- he hasn't been with the team for months.

Bill Belichick pointed that out in a statement released Saturday.

“For the past eight months, Josh’s situation has been entirely a league matter," Belichick's statement said. "When Josh returns to our program, we will evaluate the entire situation and do what we feel is best for Josh and the team."

Slater emphasized the point that he and others will welcome Gordon with open arms.

“I think having support is always a good thing, no matter who you are, no matter what life has brought your way," Slater said. "I think support is good, and hopefully he finds that he has support here. I think that’s really all I can say about it now. What’s good, what’s not good remains to be seen.”

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