There's not a lot Gronkowski can't do

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There's not a lot Gronkowski can't do

FOXBORO - As good a receiver as Rob Gronkowski has become - and the fact that he will inevitably set the single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end is evidence of that - he's also a devastating blocker.

It's not a lost art for the position by any means. But when you have one who can not only get open, catch and run but be a competent blocker, you have a complete player.

And Gronk, as Bill Belichick said, is more than competent as a blocker.

"Rob is long, can handle the length of outside linebackers and defensive ends, 64, 65 guys," Belichick said Monday in the wake of New England's 31-24 win over the Colts. "Hes got that kind of reach and hes a strong guy. He takes a lot of pride in his blocking. He likes to block and takes pride in having a good block. He gets excited about that. I think he enjoys that part of the game. He does a pretty good job."

Watch Gronkowski closely on running plays and you'll see what Belichick means. He stalks his assignment and finishes as well as any player on the outside. Whether it's a defensive end or outside linebacker, he can match up, as Belichick said. And his athleticism makes him able to not be out-quicked by defensive backs when they become his responsibility.

As much as anything, though, blocking duty is about willingness to sacrifice. And Gronkowski has that.

Belichick is liberal with his praise of Gronkowski - with 23 touchdowns in 23 NFL starts and 65 receptions and 13 touchdowns this year, he ought to be. But Belichick is also high on the improvement Gronkowski's made.

"There are a lot of things that hes doing better now than he did four weeks ago or back in September because he works at them, he takes coaching and does work hard on the practice field," Belichick pointed out. "He really tries to improve and do what you ask him to do. You see that on a weekly basis. He usually has a couple of plays every week that, if you reflect back to a different point in time last week or last month or whatever, you can see improvement in the way hes trying to do it.

"Hes conscientious and Brian Ferentz, the tight end coach, does a good job of staying on those guys and keeping on their technique and their assignments and everything. If the player works hard, then he should improve and I think Rob has done that."

Ferentz has an interesting job. Not only is he charged with developing Gronkowski, butalso with developing pseudo-wideout Aaron Hernandez.

With those two as the main tight ends on the roster,Ferentz is able to concentrate on developing their skills. Andhe's clearly earning his pay.

"Fundamentally, some things are the same but assignment-wise, sure some things are different," Belichick said when asked how varied the teaching is between Hernandez and Gronkowski. "Actually, those guys are interchangeable in different formations and so forth. When you only have two of them, in a way they have to back each other up in certain ways. Theres a lot of carryover. They have different skill sets, but theyre both very talented players. But certainly a large part of it is fundamentally the same."

Earlier this season, when Hernandez went down with an MCL sprain, Gronkowski moved into Hernandez' role as a virtual extra wideout. That both players can do the other guy's job AND be effective in his shows what's been accomplished since they got here.

"There are things Aaron does more of or does more than Rob and vice versa, so thats pretty common," Belichick pointed out. "Therere certain game plan things and certain skill things that one guy does that the other one sort of specializes in or vice versa that differentiates the coaching a little bit too, for what theyre being asked to do."

With119 throws being completed to the two of them this season, tight end has arguably become the strongest position onoffense aside from quarterback. That Gronkowski in particular is so valuable when the ball isn't coming to him is proof of just how valuable he's become.

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Jimmy Garoppolo can't help but hear trade rumors that involve his name. He heard all about them during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Now his mom's keeping him up to date. 

"My mom loves telling me the news updates," Garoppolo told ESPN's Adam Schefter, "so she’s all over that stuff, but it’s been working really well . . . 

"I’m telling you, she could be your assistant. She’s all over the place. Her and my dad on Twitter and stuff like that. I don’t even think they know how to tweet, but they always have something going on . . .

"They know what to hit me with and what to keep quiet. They know me so well that they know what I’d like to hear and what I don’t need to hear. There’s a couple slip-ups here and there, I’m not going to lie to you, but they’re just so excited about it. It’s an exciting time, and they’re loving it."

Garoppolo tried his best to deflect questions about his future as he prepared for Super Bowl LI, but he could only insulate himself so much from those conversations. After six quarters of well-played football, he's chummed the waters for quarterback-starved franchises. As the draft nears, offers are expected to hit the Gillette Stadium offices, and it will be up to Bill Belichick and his staff to determine whether they should part ways with Tom Brady's backup. 

Schefter asked Garoppolo about one team in particular that could be interested: the Chicago Bears. Their general manager Ryan Pace is an Eastern Illinois alum, like Garoppolo, and Garoppolo is a Chicago-area kid. 

"I get asked about [that possibility] all the time from my friends and family back in Chicago," Garoppolo said. "They’re good reporters, my family. But I keep telling them I really don’t know how it would feel until . . . if it was to happen, I wouldn’t know how I’d feel until it did, you know? So it’s kind of one of those things, it’s hard to say right now."

Garoppolo added: "For the most part I am just trying to stay level-headed, trying not to think about it, over think it too much because at the end of the day I am still under contract. It is not my decision if I get traded or if I don’t, so I am just trying to take it all in stride. At the end of the day, you just have to enjoy it. The NFL, it is a hard place to be, hard place to succeed and when you get an opportunity you have to go and take advantage of it."

The idea of getting an opportunity, though, is an enticing one. Before the 2016 season, Garoppolo was very open about how he looked forward to his opportunity to start with Brady suspended for the first four weeks of the season. And with Schefter, he acknowledged that there are times when it's hard not to be impatient when you're the guy behind the guy.

"There’s times," Garoppolo said. "Obviously the kickoff happens and you are ready to roll. The juices get flowing again. You get the adrenaline, the butterflies. It’s football, you have to love the atmosphere . . . 

"We all play the game. We all want to be out there on the field and get an opportunity to play. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there is probably the best way to put it. We’re competitors at the end of the day. We want to be out there, I want to be out there competing and playing with my teammates.”