Gronkowski gets into the starting blocks


Gronkowski gets into the starting blocks

By Tom E. Curran Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Gronk ready. An apparently tweaked ankle kept Patriots' second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski out of the preseason opener last week against Jacksonville. But it appears the big man is good to go Thursday night against Tampa Bay. And we will see if what has been a dominant string of practices will carry over to game conditions. Gronkowski's been a beast wherever he's been -- pass catching in the open field and blocking included. But he's really been unguardable in the red zone. And, for a Patriots' team that went 6-for-6 on red zone trips last week against the Jags, Gronkowski makes the offense that much more daunting. "You don't want to get in the red zone and be kicking field goals every time," Gronkowski lectured. "You know when you're in the red zone you want to be scoring touchdowns so we're out there every day focusing on the red zone, making sure everyone has their routes nice and crisp, the quarterback's on point and the tight ends are doing their job."Ten of Gronkowski's 42 catches in 2010 went for touchdowns.Based on how he's looked in camp, there's no reason to think that number will fall.Especially as the offense becomes a little easier for him to process. "The coaches and quarterbacks are telling me to listen to them more and I'm learning the ways they want me to run the routes in the red zone and not just me going out there and running them how I want to run them," Gronkowski explained when detailing the differences in his game since last year. "Just build and understand how everything is working together."Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

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?”