Gronkowski gets into the starting blocks

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Gronkowski gets into the starting blocks

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com 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 tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

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Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

When Kyle Van Noy was traded to the Patriots in late October, he had a lot to learn. He needed to understand the layout of his new team's maze-like facility. He needed to adjust to a new locker room. He needed to adapt to a new home. 

He also had to become fluent in a new language.

The former Lions 'backer was inactive for two weeks before he was comfortable enough with the Patriots system -- and the coaching staff was comfortable enough with him -- to get on the field. He played 29 snaps against the Niners in first game with his new club, then saw 28 plays against the Jets. On Sunday he saw his role expand as he played 40 of a possible 51 plays, which was more than Shea McClellin (38) or Dont'a Hightower (33). 

"Kyle has done a great job of working really hard to acclimate to what we’re doing, and he has had to learn really fast as far as the system, the communication, the language," said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on a conference call Tuesday. "It’s like when you go to a different system, offensively or defensively, a lot of times it’s just learning the vernacular and the verbiage . . . That’s a big part of it. Then getting more familiar with that kind of terminology and the communication is critical because there’s a lot of calls and adjustments, things like that that we’ve got to do on the field."

Van Noy was making some of those calls himself on Sunday as he wore the green dot on his helmet when Hightower was on the sidelines. Even with the added responsibility, Van Noy was able to play freely enough that he put together what might have been the best game of his three-year career. 

Used at the end of the line of scrimmage as well as in a more traditional off-the-line linebacker role, Van Noy was effective in defending both the pass and the run: He stuffed three Rams rush attempts, he recorded a quarterback hit that led to an incompletion, he drew a holding call, and he recorded an athletic interception when he tracked a wobbling Jared Goff pass that floated over the middle after Jabaal Sheard hit Goff's arm as the rookie released his throw.

After several of his stand-out plays, Van Noy was visibly excited on the field and later on the sidelines. It was the culmination of six weeks of work, learning as much as he could from a coaching staff that was eager to teach him. 

"He’s extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game," Patricia said. "He’s very cerebral. He’ll ask a lot of questions. He really wants to understand what we’re doing and why, which is great. We’re trying to give him those answers and insight into kind of where some of this either came from or developed or situations like that so that’s really good."