Patriots

Brady understands Gronkowski's frustration

patriots-rob-gronkowski.jpg

Brady understands Gronkowski's frustration

You're never surprised when Tom Brady has Rob Gronkowski's back. The big tight end has helped make Brady's life a little easier since he arrived in New England as a second-round pick in 2010.

That's why it barely caused a ripple when Brady quietly lobbed some support Gronkowski's way as he stepped to the podium at New Era Field on Sunday.

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Devin McCourty was finishing up his press conference by making a joke that Patriots defensive backs to a lot of holding when trying to defend Gronkowski in practice. Brady replaced McCourty at the microphone with a smile and a quick quip.

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After the country had several hours to chew on what happened at the end of the Patriots' 23-3 win in Buffalo -- when Gronkowski took a shot at Tre'Davious White following White's fourth-quarter interception -- Brady spoke to WEEI's Kirk and Callahan about his tight end's actions.

"Obviously, it was unnecessary roughness. He got the penalty for it," Brady said. "It’s an emotional game. These are spur-of-the-moment things. They just happen. We deal with the penalties. They got some penalties on the play too, and you’d always love to keep your cool all the time, but when you’re in a sport when you are trying to run, block and hit, tackle, and be physical and aggressive, that is why people tune in. I think if it was a pillow fight I don’t think people would tune in to watch."

Then Brady laid out why Gronkowski sometimes feels as frustrated as he does -- something Gronkowski himself explained immediately following the game. It's an issue Gronkowski has actually been very open discussing in the past, and it's one Brady was willing to delve into on Monday morning.

Clearly, they're hoping for some kind of change in how plays involving Gronkowski are officiated. At different points in his career, he has been among the league leaders in offensive pass interference penalties, and he picked up another to start the second half on Sunday.  

"I think for him it is frustrating," Brady said. "He’s 270 pounds, so when they put a 190-pound player on him, any time there’s any contact, just by inertia the other defender is going to move. You basically limit it to a non-contact play and it’s just try to out-quick someone, which obviously those guys are a lot quicker. 

"Gronk tries to get as close as he can to use his size, but the refs, they throw a lot of flags on him. He’s tried to change his style of play a little bit, but I think he obviously gets grabbed and held all day long. I’d say it is very frustrating for him to get these pass interference calls and he’s getting held the whole game and he doesn’t get a call. I can see why he’s very frustrated. It’s frustrating for everybody.”

Gronkowski finished the game with nine catches for 147 yards, but the question is now whether or not he will be able to build on that performance next week against the Dolphins. The league will certainly kick around the possibility of further discipline for his hit on White. 

“I hope not," Brady said when asked about the possibility of a Gronkowski suspension. "I certainly hope not. Yeah, I hope not.”

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NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

Chris Gasper and Michael Holley talk about the inconsistent messaging from NFL owners to their teams' players after they unanimously voted to change the league's policy regarding the national anthem. Watch the video above. 

Rivers feeling good, could help provide Patriots an answer at left end

Rivers feeling good, could help provide Patriots an answer at left end

FOXBORO -- Of all the observations made at Tuesday's OTA practice, one that stood out as sort of an under-the-radar takeaway was that the defensive end position for the Patriots looked nothing like it did back in early February.

Seeing a good deal of the workload on the edges were two players who didn't play a snap for the Patriots last season: Derek Rivers and Adrian Clayborn.

From this, we can deduce a couple of things.

First, a few of the team's most experienced edge defenders weren't available. Trey Flowers' absence from Tuesday's work is worth monitoring as we progress through the spring and move toward training camp. Arguably the team's top defensive lineman, Flowers is headed into the final year of his rookie contract. Dont'a Hightower, who's coming back from a season-ending pec injury and has on-the-line/off-the-line flexibility, was also missing Tuesday.

Second, the participation level from both Rivers and Clayborn would serve as an indication that both are feeling healthy enough to take on a healthy amount of work at this point in the year. Clayborn reportedly tweaked his quad in workouts earlier in the offseason program, but he appeared to be moving fine. Rivers, meanwhile, is back for his second pro season after missing all of last year following an ACL tear suffered in joint training camp practices with the Texans.

Rivers availability is particularly interesting, if unsurprising, since he could be a stabilizing factor for the Patriots' front in 2018. A third-round pick last year out of Youngstown State, Rivers was used as an end, as a stand-up player on the edge, as a pass-rusher and as a coverage player in camp before getting hurt.

Though he missed all of last season, he was able to maintain a positive approach in the Patriots locker room, attending meetings and working diligently on his upper-body strength while his leg healed.

"Nobody ever wants to have an injury, but praise God. It’s all in his plan," Rivers said Tuesday. "My faith helped me get through it. It was a good rehab process. I was able to learn the defense, and I wasn’t away from the building, so I could do everything but be out here on the field. So it was a blessing. It actually made me a better player."

Rivers played on the left side - opposite Clayborn, a right end - in Tuesday's work. That's a position the Patriots had some trouble filling all of last season following Rob Ninkovich's retirement. It requires good athleticism, an ability to set an edge, an ability to rush...but also an ability to track backs out of the backfield.

"I’d say it’s different playing on the left than playing on the right from a responsibilities standpoint," Bill Belichick said last summer. "There’s certainly some similarities, but it’s different. Some guys can play both. Some guys, I would say, are better suited at one or the other. Sometimes that’s a comfort thing. Sometimes it’s really a scheme thing and what we ask them to do. They’re the same, but they’re different more so than say right and left corner or right and left defensive tackle or that type of thing. It’s defensive scheme. It’s a little bit different...

"I think it really becomes more of a coverage discussion – how much and what type of coverage responsibilities would you put them in? You know, Chandler Jones versus Ninkovich or Trey Flowers versus Ninkovich. There’s some differences in their coverage responsibilities. Especially most teams are, for us, defensively left-handed formation teams. Not that they couldn’t do it the other way, but more times than not, there’s a high percentage of situations that come up on the left side that are different from the right side, especially with a right-handed quarterback, which most of them are.

"I mean, look, they both have to know them, they both have to do them, but I’d say there’s definitely more – it’s kind of like left tackle and right tackle. You don’t really see the same player at right tackle as left tackle. Some guys can do both, but there are quite a few guys that are better at one or the other, and that’s usually where they end up."

The Patriots used Hightower off the left side early in the season but eventually moved him back to the middle in what looked like an effort to improve the unit's overall communication. Cassius Marsh got a crack at the spot at times. Kyle Van Noy could be seen there. Eric Lee saw work on the left. It was a revolving door. 

The rotation was heavy at both edge spots, really. Deatrich Wise saw extensive work as a rookie. Harvey Langi looked like he might earn regular snaps before a car wreck ended his season. Trevor Reilly, Geneo Grissom, Marquis Flowers and James Harris all appeared on the edge as the Patriots hoped to find answers. 

In the athletic Rivers, they could have a player who is big enough (6-foot-5, 250) to handle work in the running game on the left edge and athletic enough to both rush (his specialty in college) and cover. It's just a matter of Rivers showing the team he can do it. 

"Obviously, coming in here, your rookie year is almost like your freshman year in college," Rivers said. "So now, it’s just listening to the coaches, staying in the playbook and just getting ready to roll for each practice and just try to get better each and every day.”

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