FOXBORO - He is Spicoli in shoulder pads. Minus, presumably, the weed and the surfing. The best pure tight end in football, Rob Gronkowski, added to his burgeoning legend Monday night with four catches for 96 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of earth-denting "Gronk Smash!" spikes. He's got 56 catches for 805 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's second in the NFL in catches, third in yards and first in touchdowns. He will be an All-Pro. He will be in the Pro Bowl. He will also give himself away in a raffle to spend Christmas Eve in the company of Gronk. He will no longer be photographed willingly with porn stars. He will live the Gronk Life and everyone with even a molecule of fun in their being will smile at what appears to be the harmless, laid-back, fun-seeking idiocy of a 22-year-old blessed with a body that's perfect for his vocation. "I call it maximizing the adventure of the NFL," was the response of veteran Gerard Warren when I asked him Monday night about the odd soul a few lockers away. By the time I talked to Warren, Gronkowski's postgame interview with ESPN had ended. With reporters surrounding his locker, he decided to get his media commitments out of the way all at once. He began to peel off his coat then decided he liked the way it looked and left it on. Thinking aloud as he made each decision, feigning seriousness as he faced the throng, this is how the interview went. Gronk was asked about his neck which he landed on when he scored a touchdown in the third quarter. "Feels great. I think it feels better (than it did)."The thunderous spike. Did he almost forget to do it after his crash landing. "I wasn't really thinking of it until I did it. It's just what it is, what it is."Gronkowski punctuated that with a strange cackle. Perhaps a realization that he'd mangled perhaps theeasiest catchphrase New England's football team has: "It is what it is."The medical staff. What did they ask you after the spike?"They were just asking me questions like they gotta. IfI was fine and everything I was just fine. I just got the wind knocked out of me a little bit. You know how that is when that happens."Ya know, among the group he was addressing, there wasn't a one of us who appeared capable of executing the move Gronkowski made without ending up eating through a straw for the rest of their life. So, actually, no. Nobody's had the wind knocked out of them like that. But the trainers, you guys were laughing?"Yeah, they're always cracking jokes. Trainers are cool."What were they asking you, math problems?"I just, yeah. They kept asking me then I started throwing out my own math problems. "They were like, 'Dude, count to 10.' I started counting to 10. It was pretty easy though. They kept letting me play."Now, as I read back what I've written it's easy to see where someone would think I'm making fun of Gronk. But there's no malice. The kid is without guile, without polish, without apology. He is simply him. And he does his best to accomodate requests and do his job with a level of enjoyment that, simply,makes you wish there were a few more Gronks around.You say, "That's how I'd be . . . " if you were good enough and lucky enough to be in the NFL at the level he's at. But almost all of us wouldn't be. You're either born like Gronk or you're not. You can't change the wiring. The best you can do is appreciate the player and appreciate that he, simply, appreciates what the hell's happening. "It's still pretty crazy," he admitted in the moment most closely resembling deep thought. "It's still a dream come true being in the NFL. Some days I wake up. I talk to Dane Fletcher, a Patriots linebacker, my roommate and we're like, 'Dude, we're in the NFL.' It's crazy like, we still can't kinda believe it. It's playing with all these great players and everything that we looked up to when we were in high school even in middle school. It's so much fun coming out, you have to try and treat every moment like your last."God willing, the last of Gronk is a long ways off.
The Patriots pulled off a rare deal with a rival on Tuesday.
According to ESPN, they've sent tight end A.J. Derby to the Broncos in exchange for a fifth-round pick.
Derby played in 33 offensive snaps over four games this season for the Patriots. A sixth-round draft choice in 2015 out of Arkansas, Derby spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve.
One of the stars of the preseason for the Patriots, Derby caught 15 passes for 189 yards in four exhibition games. A former college quarterback for Iowa and Arkansas, Derby was named a practice player of the week by the Patriots when they were hurting for healthy signal-callers early in the season during Tom Brady's suspension.
The deal leaves the Patriots somewhat thin at the tight end position. They now have now true tight ends behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. They do, however, have fullback James Develin, who meets with tight ends on a daily basis. On the practice squad, the Patriots have another fullback in Glenn Gronkowski.
In Denver, Derby will compete with tight ends Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman and John Phillips for time.
The Patriots acquired Kyle Van Noy, who was the Lions’ 2014 second-round pick and starting linebacker this season, on Tuesday.
Why former Pats executive Bob Quinn would send a starter East for what is reportedly just a conditional draft pick is something we’ll try to ferret out.
The Patriots were no doubt interested because they lost Jonathan Freeny to IR with an injury, rookie Elandon Roberts is an undersized thumper (Van Noy is 6-3, 252) and Shea McClellin is well, just… there so far.
Van Noy has two years remaining on his rookie deal so -- provided he shows something -- he could be around awhile. The move -- one week before the trade deadline -- is a familiar one from the Patriots who added players like Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers in 2014 prior to their Super Bowl run.
This story from last season indicates that Van Noy’s lack of production in his first two seasons with the Lions was merely a matter of circumstance.
Perhaps. We’ll find out soon enough. Meanwhile, the name Van Noy made me perk up because I remembered him as having a central role in the excellent book The System by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian.
Read the excerpt on Van Noy here. It will give you a better understanding of the road he’s traveled.