Brady on Gronkowski: 'It's a big void left by such a spectacular player'

Brady on Gronkowski: 'It's a big void left by such a spectacular player'

Tom Brady knows he'll be without his most dynamic offensive weapon for -- in all likelihood -- the remainder of the season.

The Patriots and Rob Gronkowski's family released a joint statement that said the expectation was that the All-Pro's 2016 campaign is over. But even before that statement was released, Brady told Jim Gray of Westwood One Radio on Thursday night that his team had a lot of work to do in order to try to overcome Gronkowski's absence. 

"Well, you know, it doesn't help losing great players," Brady said. "And to not have Gronk out there -- one of our best players and most dependable, consistent players -- and not in the lineup makes things challenging for us. But that's what the NFL season is about. It's about overcoming challenges.

"We have a lot of good players on our team that are going to need to fill the void, and it's a big void left by such a spectacular player in Gronk. But I don't think that any of us are going to give up on what we're trying to accomplish."

The Patriots offense will take on a different look without Gronkowski. They may lean heavily on Martellus Bennett, but their two-tight-end packages may be replaced by more three-receiver sets, meaning more work for either Malcolm Mitchell or Danny Amendola alongside Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could also turn to his his two-back "pony" sets with both James White and Dion Lewis in the backfield, providing the team with a two dual-threat options. 

However the Patriots proceed, they'll have their work cut out for them. Gronkowski has caught 25 passes for 540 yards -- an average of 21.6 yards per catch, which is a career-high. He's also a captain, something the Patriots and the Gronkowski family referenced in their joint statement Thursday night. 

"He's such a mentally tough person," Brady said. "He's physically tough. He's got such a great energy and spirit about him. We're all wishing him the very best. Nobody wants Gronk not out there. Everybody wants Gronk out there every play of every game. But that's not our reality. We still have a job to do, and we're going to go out there and try to do it as well as we possibly can."

Brady was asked if he had spoken to Gronkowski recently.

"I've seen him the last few days so I've spoken to him a few times," Brady said. "Everyone's thinking about him and what he's gone through. It's such a physical sport, it's hard to see people you care about go through injuries. He's gone through his fair share, but I also know the resolve that he has, and that will never change with him. He'll be as determined as ever to get back and get better as soon as possible."

Belichick on bubble players stressing: 'That's what you sign up for'

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Belichick on bubble players stressing: 'That's what you sign up for'

FOXBORO -- Even though the games don't count yet, this is a stressful time of year for NFL teams. 

It's one thing to be a coach. There are decisions to make in terms of how your team will be built. There are preparations to make for Week 1, but there are also still two preseason games ahead.  That's a good number of balls in the air, or "plates spinning," as Tom E. Curran likes to say.

But to be a player, particularly a player on the fringes of what will be the 53-man active roster, is an entirely different ordeal. Veteran players could see their careers end soon. Young players could be forced to uproot and try to start anew somewhere else. Livelihoods are on the line.

There's stress. 

Bill Belichick was asked in a press conference on Wednesday how important it is for players on the bubble not to press too much at this time of year despite that stress. But as Belichick put it, stress is simply part of the job. It's unavoidable no matter what time of year it is, which means that in a way, playing and performing under stress now might be a good indicator of how certain players will handle it down the line. 

Here's Belichick's answer in full: 

"I think that's a good question. It's a fair question," Belichick started. "But this is the National Football League, and there's pressure every week. There's pressure this week. There's going to be pressure in September. There's going to be pressure in October. There's going to be pressure in November. We're going to be under stress all year. Every week. And we're going to be under stress out on the field every week against every opponent. Playing in the National Football League that's what you sign up for. If you're looking for vacation weeks and weeks off or we play some Division 4 team, all that, that doesn't happen in this league. There's stress every week.

"There's stress in training camp. Yeah. There's plenty of it. There's stress on the coaching staff to get the team ready, to pick the right players. There's stress on each player to establish his role, or make the team, or play for playing time, whatever it is. There's stress on everybody, and there's stress on every team. We're not in any different situation than any other team in the league is. Every player on every one of those teams is having the same thoughts that our players are having, I'm sure. One way or the other. Either the guys who think they're on the team are trying to get ready to have a good year, or there are a lot of guys who aren't sure whether they're on or they're not or what they're role is. And there are a lot of coaches who don't know the answer to that question either. We're trying to figure it out. There is no right answer at this point. It's still a process.

"But there's pressure every week in this league so if there's too much pressure in August, there's probably going to be too much pressure in November. This is the world we live in. If you tell me a week in the National Football League when there's not pressure, I don't know when that is. Every week's a tough week. Every week's a good team. Good players, good coaches who work hard and have a lot of good things you gotta deal with. And if you don't deal with them, you're not winning that week. That's the NFL."

Hightower happy to be back in New England following free agency

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Hightower happy to be back in New England following free agency

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower met with reporters to talk football on Wednesday morning at Gillette Stadium, the first time he had done so since signing an extension with the Patriots back in March.

About five months later, no regrets.

"It’s good. I’m glad I didn’t have to relocate," Hightower said with a smile. "Stressful, but glad it’s over with. Glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m back on the field now."

Hightower, who was removed from the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday, explained that there was a point during the free agency process at which he believed he might end up playing elsewhere. 

"Yeah, it’s free agency," Hightower said. "But it is what it is. It’s over and done with now. I’m here."

On spending his career to this point in New England and being a member of the Patriots, Hightower added: "It’s meant a lot. I’ve been here my whole career. It wasn’t a hard change for what I had in college, so I was definitely used to it. So it wasn’t a big change. I feel like I’ve had a lot of success in programs like this. Alabama and New England are not too far different. The culture around here, the teammates, the coaches is second to none anywhere. When it came down to my decision, it wasn’t too hard of a choice."