By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - We hadn't had a chance to speak to rookie corner Alfonzo Dennard until Thursday.
The well-regarded rookie corner whose stock plummeted just before the draft after an arrest in Lincoln, Nebraska had been kept under wraps.
But his athleticism and skill - even on the first day - was hard to overlook. Wearing No. 37, Dennard got beat on plenty of plays. But he also showed excellent short-area burst, a build ideal for playing the "star" position against the opposition's slot receiver, and a touch of aggressiveness.
"Alfonzo's done a good job of trying to pick things up here," Bill Belichick said Friday before the Patriots' second training camp practice. "Our system's a little different than what they ran at Nebraska. He's worked hard and he also got a lot of attention there the first couple days before everyone else got here. That was good for him to get a little bit extra coaching, extra time."
Dennard was viewed as a late first-rounder when the college season began in late 2012. As the season wore along, he suffered an injury that dropped his stock just a bit. But an arrest a week before the draft sent his stock plummeting. It wasn't until the seventh round that the Patriots pulled the string.
Dennard could end up being a huge bargain if he plays to his athletic potential. If he fails to do that, the damage isn't too significant.
"I'm just trying to learn the playbook and learn from the veterans as much as I can," said Dennard. "I'm just trying to play football, I don't try to idolize anybody."
As for his court date on assaulting a policeman?
"It's over and done," Dennard said. "I'm just trying to keep my mind level on football and stay focused."
Actually, it's not over and done. He's due to go on trial for his alleged infraction in December.
When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance.
Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season.
"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go.
Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play.
"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."
Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.
At this point, there may be no getting out of it.
Roger Goodell chose to visit Atlanta twice in as many weeks during its run to a Super Bowl, and in the process he opted not to check in at Gillette Stadium for either the Divisional Round or the AFC title game. But once the Patriots won Super Bowl LI, many felt as though Goodell would simply have no choice but to attend the 2017 regular-season opener in Foxboro.
There are those who are itching to have him visit. There are those who hope he stays away. In an interview with ESPN, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't put himself in either camp, but he seemed to suggest that it might not be the best idea for the commissioner to show his face in New England.
"To tell you the truth, I really don’t think so," Gronkowski said when asked if Goodell could come back to Foxboro any time soon. "The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what. They have Tom’s back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."
Goodell hasn't been to Gillette Stadium since Deflategate, but he said during Super Bowl week that he'd be happy to visit if he was invited.