Rob Gronkowski turned 27 on Saturday. (Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images)
1. Rob Gronkowski celebrated his 27th birthday on Saturday. With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at where his performance to this stage of his career stacks up with some of the greats of the game at the same age. Gronkowski’s 380 career receptions prior to his 27th birthday is 12th-best in NFL history. (For some perspective, Randy Moss had 525 catches before he turned 27. Larry Fitzgerald’s 523 catches by his 27th birthday are second.) However, it’s worth noting that Gronkowski’s 5,555 career receiving yards are fifth-best on the list, while his 65 receiving touchdowns is second-best all-time for anyone in that same span (he trails only Moss with 77).
2. Offseason workout routines can occasionally make for some intriguing combinations. (There’s one theory that suggests Gronkowski, who was a workout pal of Martellus Bennett this past offseason, helped push through the deal that delivered ultimately Bennett to the Patriots.) With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Jeff Christiansen — who has served as the personal quarterbacking teacher for current Patriots’ backup Jimmy Garoppolo for several seasons — is currently working with Houston’s Brock Osweiler. (Contacted by WEEI.com, Christiansen said Saturday he was in Houston to work with Osweiler this coming week.) Of course, Christiansen also tutors several other quarterbacks at various stages of development, from high school through the NFL. But with Osweiler in Denver backing up Peyton Manning and Garoppolo serving as the No. 2 quarterback behind Tom Brady in New England the last few years, the parallels are certainly worth noting.
3. Smart move on the part of the Patriots to pull No. 51 out of circulation for the time being. Even if they’re not going to retire the digits — with expanding rosters, not sure how practical it is to out-and-out retire numbers any more — it’s an easy way to acknowledge the career of veteran Jerod Mayo and what he meant to the organization. Via Instagram on Saturday, Mayo thanked the Patriots for the move, what he called a “silent paycheck” that was more a sign of respect than anything else. “I retired from the game as my ultimate sign of respect to the best organization, owner, coach, teammates and staff the Mayo family could have ever dreamed of. I gave my all and wanted to leave knowing I was able to always live my end of the bargain. I wanted and needed nothing more in return; the organization did enough. There is a thing in life called a ‘silent paycheck'; and ways to show gratitude. To the classiest organization in all of sports, and maybe even in all of business on behalf of Chantel, our children and I, we say thank you for one of the most humbling and unexpected silent paychecks we have ever received.” No one suggests that the number will be out of action for an extended stretch — only that No. 51 should remain on the shelf this coming season as a way to pay tribute to Mayo.
4. Vince Wilfork isn’t around anymore, but he still has some pull with his old mates, as it appears the veteran defensive tackle has gotten Mayo and Devin McCourty into horse racing. Thanks to an article that was sent along by our pal Mike Mutnansky, we found that Wilfork, Mayo and McCourty are part of a group that owns 3-year-old filly Elysea’s World, a horse that beat Grey Stark by a half-length Wednesday on the turf at Belmont Park and is regarded as a filly to watch. Wilfork is also the sole owner of Great Minds, who won his third straight race in the Texas Mile earlier this month. Wilfork got into racing in 2008 after he “fell in love” with Big Brown, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. “I said, ‘You know what? I want to get involved. I want to own one.’ I played with a couple of claimers and learned the game,” Wilfork told reporters earlier this week. “And when I felt like I was ready to own my own horse, I got introduced to Claiborne Farm. They’ve been nothing but awesome people over the years. For my first yearling to do what he’s doing right now, you can’t put a price on that.”
5. Not sure if first-year tight end Steven Scheu (pronounced SHOY) is going to stick with the Patriots, but it was clear from speaking with the rookie free agent very briefly this week that the Vanderbilt product is a guy with a good head on his shoulders and a solid sense of perspective. Asked if majoring in medicine meant that he’d like to head into that field once his playing career is done, Scheu said yes. “Most of the people in that major are guys that are going to go on and pursue some sort of professional healthcare careers like medical school, optometry, being a dentist; whatever it is,” he said. “So, after football or possibly in the offseason I’d like to pursue my MBA in healthcare management and then after I do that kind of go from there.” The 6-foot-5, 256-pounder, who was named to several All-SEC honors rolls over the course of his college career, ended his tenure at Vandy with 83 catches for 933 yards and seven touchdowns. While he enters a crowded picture at tight end in New England — his ceiling is likely as a practice squadder, at least at this moment — the Patriots do have a fondness for smart and savvy players. One to watch.
6. As for the rest of the rookies we met, we didn’t get a chance to talk to all of them, but of the ones we did speak with, a few things stand out: Scheu is going to succeed whatever he ends up doing in life. There’s no way of knowing yet if linebacker/safety Kamu Grugier-Hill can play at the NFL level, but he certainly carries himself like someone who believes he can play on Sundays. The same is true for wide receiver Devin Lucien and running back D.J. Foster. That’s not to say they’re cocky, only to suggest that all three appear relaxed and at ease with the media. Linebacker Elandon Roberts speaks slowly, and chooses his words very thoughtfully. (Especially when it comes to wearing No. 51.) And defensive lineman Vincent Valentine did well addressing questions about his commitment and consistency while in college. No one was overly revealing, but there were self-aware moments from many of them that seemed to indicate that they were already “on the program” when it came to dealing with the media.
7. I wrote about father-son coaching connections across the league earlier this year, but when I was doing research for another story, I came across the fact that Klint Kubiak was also named an assistant coach with the Broncos this past season, joining his father’s staff in Denver. (The younger Kubiak left his position as the wide receivers coach at Kansas to become the offensive assistant to the quarterbacks for the Broncos.) That means the last three Super Bowl-winning coaches — Kubiak, Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll — all have their sons working with them on their respective coaching staffs.
8. Many ex-Patriots have managed to make a smooth transition in the media over the last decade-plus, with Matt Chatham, Christian Fauria, Scott Zolak and Tedy Bruschi to name a few joining the ranks of the fourth estate. However, we could see a lot more in the coming years, as several others have signed up to take part in the 10th annual NFL broadcast boot camp, set for later this month at NFL Films. James Ihedigbo, Adalius Thomas, Bobby Carpenter and Duane Starks are all listed as participants in this year’s program. The four-day boot camp, co-directed by the NFL Player Engagement and NFL broadcasting departments, covers a wide range of topics with instructors from top broadcast and radio networks, including Big Ten Network, CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, SiriusXM, and Westwood One Radio. Sessions include hands-on work in areas such as tape study, editing, studio and show preparation, radio production, production meetings, and field reporting. Each player will tape segments as a game analyst and a field reporter and will also have a chance to serve as a live guest host on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
9. They’re optimistic in Minnesota for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact they’re set to open a new stadium and that young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has emerged as one of the better young signal-callers in the game. On Friday, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson dropped the hammer comparison-wise, saying that Bridgewater reminds him of a young Tom Brady. “He reminds me of a Tom Brady because Tom Brady is great at those mediocre passes,” Peterson told NBC Sports Radio. “Those short passes and midrange passes, and that’s exactly what Teddy does as well. He’s the type of guy that needs the receiver that runs routes and that’s at a specific location that you’re practicing. So I feel like with the additions that we’ve made to the offensive line and of course me envisioning what I’ll be able to bring to the offense as well I think that’s going to make his job a lot easier. With that he’ll feel more comfortable and he can really get back there and just play his game. So I’m expecting big things from Teddy this year.” For the record, here’s a look at what Brady and Bridgewater did over their first two years as starters in the NFL — while Brady rode the wave to a Super Bowl win in 2001, from a pure numbers perspective, it’s an interesting comparison.
Brady 2001-2002: 30 games started (20-10 record), 63 percent completion rate, 6,607 passing yards, 45 TDs, 26 INTs, 86 percent passer rating, 6.5 yards gained per pass attempt.
Bridgewater 2014-2015: 28 games started (17-11 record) 65 percent completion rate, 6,150 passing yards, 28 TDs, 21 INTs, 87 percent passer rating, 7.2 yards gained per pass attempt.
10. The CFL draft took place this past week, and there were two local stories of note worth passing along: one, former Patriots practice squadder Alex Singleton was selected sixth overall by the Calgary Stampeders. One report indicated that New England was interested in the possibility of bringing the linebacker back in 2016. (For what it’s worth, the California native was only recently declared a Canadian, because his mom was born north of the border. Under CFL rules, each team must have at least 21 players classified as Canadian nationals or non-import players, though QBs do not count towards the rule.) And two, Boston College defensive lineman Mehdi Abdesmad was taken by the Ottawa Redblacks in the third round. The 6-foot-6, 284-pound Abdesmad is currently on the Titans’ roster, but the only Canadian invited to the NFL combine in February would be considered a prime addition to the Ottawa roster if Tennessee decided to cut him loose and he would have the option to head north.
11. You want to get jacked up for the new season, or maybe just the new season of Madden? Check out the teaser trailer that EA Sports dropped the other day starring cover boy Rob Gronkowski. It’s awesome, but there are two things that stand out for me: one, the fact that EA Sports had Garoppolo working as the holder on either the extra-point or the field-goal attempt. I realize it’s standard operating procedure for the game to default to the backup quarterback as the holder, but let’s get some love for the real holder — Ryan Allen — in there. And two, don’t think that the folks in North Jersey didn’t notice that it was Gronk hurdling Darrelle Revis (or a Revis video-game facsimile) near the end of the ad. I know it’s a commercial, but it is what it is.
12. A quick PSA: “NFL Sunday: The Offseason Edition” has been shelved indefinitely, but we are anticipating that it’ll return on a regular basis before the start of the regular season. (There’s also the possibility of one-off shows here and there, depending on the news cycle.) In the meantime, make sure you listen to Mike Giardi and Rob Bradford on Sundays. I anticipate delivering semi-regular podcasts with a variety of guests. We’ll keep you posted on updates.