Gronkowski proving his durability


Gronkowski proving his durability

It's hard to imagine that there was a time not that long ago, when Rob Gronkowski's durability was in question.

Instead of wondering if he'll get hurt, the question his play seems to raise now is, "Who's defense will he hurt this week?"

The second-year tight end has put aside all injury inquiries with the kind of play that, well, is worth talking about.

He leads all NFL tight ends in touchdown receptions (10) this season, and is second in catches (56) and yards receiving (805).

In New England's 34-3 thumping of the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, Gronk had four catches for 96 yards with a pair of touchdown grabs.

"The great thing about Gronk is he took a couple of plays that had a few yards to them, but turned them into big plays with his ability to break tackles there in the secondary and run through people," said Pats coach Bill Belichick. "The run after the catch was huge in his production last night."

Actually, his ability to gain yards after the catch has been among the many reasons why Gronkowski is well on pace to being named to the Pro Bowl this season.

He has 334 yards after the catch this season, which ranks eighth among NFL receivers, and is tops among all tight ends.

In Monday's win, Gronkowski delivered yet another impressive yards-after-the-catch moment when he went airborne and landed on the back of his head, looking to elude the lone defender that stood between him and the end zone.

"Feels great," was Gronk's response when asked how his neck felt after his head-first landing.

Gronkowski, who was selected by the Patriots in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft, was no different than any other Patriots target whose medical history was put through a thorough background check.

He missed the entire 2009 season at Arizona following back surgery, along with illnesses keeping him out of three games in 2008.

So it's understandable if the Patriots went beyond their usual due diligence in making sure he was good to go, health-wise.

"With a player like Rob or anybody else, there are multiple examples of players who maybe missed a season or they got hurt during the middle of their senior season or their junior season if they're an underclassman, or whatever the case may be," said Nick Caserio, Patriots director of player personnel.

Caserio added, "But you evaluate the player's skills (and) what you think the player is when he's on the field. There's certainly a medical component that comes into play. So, we try to take all the information we have available and put it all together and make the decision that we feel is best for us based on the information we have."

When healthy, there were few players more productive at his position in the nation.

Gronkowski set just about every major receiving record for tight ends at Arizona, finishing as the school's career leader in receptions (75), receiving yards (1,197) and touchdowns (16) -- all in less than two full seasons, mind you.

Now in the NFL, Gronkowski continues to prove himself as not only being a productive part of the Patriots offense, but a durable one as well.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”