Rob Gronkowski says he's ready to go, but do the Patriots feel the same way?
Asked about Gronkowski's status in a conference call on Tuesday, coach Bill Belichick explained that there has not been a final decision made as to whether or not the 6-foot-6 tight end will take the field in Miami on Sunday.
"I'm glad that Rob's optimistic about this situation," Belichick said. "We'll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything, everybody, and see where everybody's at and try to do what we feel like is best for the team. With all due respect to Rob -- I'm glad he feels the way he does -- but, in the end, we'll have to make the decision we feel like is best for the team and we'll do that as we go through the week."
This may be spun as though there exists a disconnect between Gronkowski and Patriots decision-makers. That was the speculation last season as the football world waited on Gronkowski's return to the field after he rehabbed from surgery on his forearm.
The Patriots were 5-1 as they began the 2013 season in Gronkowski's absence. Then they won four of their next six games with their top red-zone threat before he went down with a season-ending knee injury against the Browns in Week 14.
If there was any sort of disagreement on Gronkowski's timetable last season, that wouldn't appear to be the case here. The Patriots wouldn't willingly hold him out if he's healthy enough and wanting to play. Whatever playing-time incentives Gronkowski would stand to gain from the Patriots by returning to the field quickly likely would not outweigh the on-field benefit the Patriots would stand to lose by keeping him on the sidelines.
If Gronkowski thinks he's ready to play, and the team doesn't feel as though it's jeopardizing his future health by putting him into regular-season action after missing each of four preseason games, odds are he'll be out there. He's too important to the grander scheme. He changes the way the Patriots are able to run their offense.
Belichick, as he's wont to do, simply could be playing things close to the vest. And though Gronkowski seems confident he'll be a part of the plan for Sunday, it's possible Belichick wants to see Gronkowski practice for a few more days before the decision is final one way or the other. We'll find out more about Gronkowski's potential availability as practice reports are released later this week.
One thing Gronkowski will have to do, whenever he returns, is adjust to in-game action without having participated in any game-like situations this summer. Belichick explained that there are significant hurdles for players to clear, even veteran players, when they get into live action after a long layoff.
"When you start the season . . . and a player hasn't played in the preseason," Belichick said, "there's still game speed and game situations, all the communication that goes in the game -- whether it's offense, defense or in the kicking game -- that's just different in practice. I think you have to be ready to handle that and work with your teammates in those conditions in that type of time frame and those types of game situations that change so fluidly.
"Practice, you can try to create some situations in practice, but a lot of practice is done in segments because it's more efficient that way. First-down, second-down, punt team, kickoff-return team. It's hard to go from one of those to another in practice or you'd be out there all day because of the time it takes to get organized that quickly. But that's not the way it is in the game so your mind has to transfer situations and transfer them very quickly because every play takes on a new down and distance or possibly field position. It could be any of the three segments of the game, players in and out of the game need to be able to have that, taking things from the sideline to make adjustments and ready to anticipate what's gonna happen in the next series and all that. You don't get good at those things with your teammates without doing them. It takes some time. Guys that don't play have to make that ground up."
Gronkowski admitted on Monday that he likely would have to ease his way back in to things; he didn't expect to play every offensive snap against the Dolphins. That kind of gradual build-up should allow him to handle things like on-the-field communication and game-speed situations at a more manageable pace.
In his first game back against the Jets last season, Gronkowski played in 51 of 79 offensive snaps.