Rob Gronkowski does much more than just catch touchdowns. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — Just watching Rob Gronkowski on a weekly basis, it may seem like he is just a big, athletic tight end who can out-run linebackers and out-muscle cornerbacks for touchdowns, but in his sixth year in the league he’s much more than that.
The 26-year-old has emerged as a leader in the Patriots locker room and besides catching passes, he has a lot more on his plate than people may think.
“I’ve always kind of thought this, tight ends are probably the skill player that is closest to, not the same, but closest to the quarterback because they are involved in the running game, they are involved in pass protection, they are involved in pass routes, they have to read the coverage, they have to know the defensive front,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “There’s a lot that goes into it mentally for them to be able to carry out their assignments and do all the things we ask them to do. Our whole tight end group prepares extremely hard. Brian [Daboll] is as good of a position coach that I’ve been around. Does a tremendous job of preparing those guys each week for all of those responsibilities that they have, which are numerous.
“Those guys really come to the work week ready to go. They know we’re going to ask a lot of them and they really embrace that and do a pretty good job of making sure they are ready to go by Sunday.”
In Sunday’s 51-17 win over the Jaguars, Gronkowski caught four passes for 101 yards, but he may have had more of an impact on the game with the Patriots’ 125 yards rushing, as he played a major role in the run blocking and clearing holes for Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount.
“The tight ends have been phenomenal. They really have done a really good job,” offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo said. “Everyone sees what they do in the pass game, but truthfully there’s tough guys in there now. Gronk had some major blocks and if you look [Sunday] — [Jacksonville] was slanting the front and him and Sebastian [Vollmer], or him and Marcus [Cannon], they were able to manipulate the end and Rob went out for our guy. They are just working really well in sync together and the addition of Big Mike [Michael Williams] at basically a tackle playing tight end, but this guy runs routes it’s pretty now.”
“Those guys have really worked their tails off and everyone looks at them as only receiving guys, they’re not, they’re tough sons of guns,” he added. “They will get in there and they will dig it out just like a tackle would.”
Through the first three games of the season, Gronkowski has caught 16 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns, which are the most among all NFL tight ends. Also, of his 16 catches 14 have gone for first downs (88 percent) — the second-highest mark in the NFL besides Vincent Jackson (min. 9 receptions).
Gronkowski’s next touchdown will be the 60th touchdown of his career (one rush included) and once he does, he’ll be just the fifth tight end in NFL history to record 60 touchdowns. He will also reach the mark in the fewest number of games.
McDaniels has seen tremendous growth from Gronkowski over the years.
“I think each year I’ve been around him he’s definitely grown in a lot of ways, but whether it’s taking care of his body, recovering from one week to the next, studying mentally, preparing for practice, looking at tapes of his opponent so that he knows the people he’s playing against and then overall technique in terms of blocking, route running, all those types of things,” McDaniels said. “I think he’s learned a lot over the course of many seasons and hopefully we can continue to work hard with him. I know he will work hard to try and get better and improve in any area that he can.”
While Gronkowski gets the bulk of his attention for his freakish ability to catch passes, he’s an all-around tremendous tight end, which is why Bill Belichick has said he’s right up there with Hall of Famer Mark Bavaro as one of the best tight ends he’s ever coached.
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