Rob Gronkowski

Gronk’s preseason activity part of new approach

Gronk’s preseason activity part of new approach

There’s a saying attributed to Tom Brady: "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you've ever got."

I don’t know if he said it first or if it’s even a phrase worth hijacking, but there’s probably a kernel of truth there. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t something that Rob Gronkowski’s had whispered in his ear this summer.

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On Saturday, Gronk was famously on the field for the first time in a preseason game since 2012. He didn’t get any touches and played just 14 snaps before calling it a night. But his presence was noteworthy in that he was ready to play and did so despite the fact the game meant nothing.

Why the change from preseasons past?

A big reason -- but probably not the sole reason -- is because Gronk’s been working with Brady’s body coach, Alex Guerrero. Both Brady and Guerrero believe strongly that the best preparation for live football is playing live football. And Gronk hasn’t really done that in the past whether because of injury or design.

On Saturday, Brady was asked about Gronk’s presence on the field and answered, “Different times of your life you try different . . . different types of experiences force you to do different things and I’m just proud of his effort.”

Gronk’s 2016 was cut short by disc surgery that came after he was landed on in New York. But Gronk also missed a game after being hammered by Seahawks safety Earl Thomas two weeks before the injury against the Jets.

Whether either of those injuries would have been prevented by a different training regimen is debatable. But Brady and Guerrero believe strongly that learning to fall and training the body to absorb violent hits rather than tense up as they occur makes a difference. So too does muscle pliability and hydration. The weight training that the Gronkowski Bros. were reared on by their father Gordie absolutely helped them get to the NFL, but you have to mix in a resistance band once in a while, it seems.

The light’s gone on for Gronk who earlier this summer acknowledged, “It felt like it was that time in my career where I just really needed to focus on it and go to the next level or else I could’ve possibly been out of the door. So just wanted to take it to the next level and keep on going."

You can’t be immunized from injury, but Guerrero’s had success turning a number of injury-prone Patriots -- from Willie McGinest through Julian Edelman -- into pretty durable players. We’ll see if it takes with Gronk.

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Brady happy to see Gronkowski healthy after work with Alex Guerrero

Brady happy to see Gronkowski healthy after work with Alex Guerrero

Saturday wasn’t just about Tom Brady’s preseason debut, or Jimmy Garoppolo’s turnovers, or an encouraging drive from Rex Burkhead with which we’ll likely get carried away, or Cyrus Jones’ punt returns. It was about Rob Gronkowski playing in a preseason game. 

Although Gronkowski turned heads in a memorable 2010 preseason debut, he hasn’t exactly been a safe bet to be seen by exhibition attendees. As he has battled injuries and the Patriots have managed him over the years, Gronkowski went four straight preseasons without taking the field once. 

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That changed Saturday, when the veteran tight end played in 13 snaps over two series. He didn’t get a single target, but he also left the game unscathed after being limited to just eight games last season. 

“It was great,” Brady said of seeing Gronkowski play. “I think for all of us to get out there and play is just something you can’t ever replicate in just practice. To get those reps in and to get the speed of the game, everything’s just happening the way it normally happens. For him to be out there for all of training camp, he’s building so much confidence and I’m proud of him, so we’ve just got to keep it going.” 

Brady has attributed much of his success to personal trainer Alex Guerrero, a controversial figure who has been accused of being a “snake oil salesman” who pretended to be a doctor when he wasn’t. 

Controversial or not, Brady and Guerrero have found results in keeping the quarterback healthy and in tremendous shape at age 40. Trying to find similar results, Gronkowski began working with Guerrero this offseason. 

Asked about the two working together following Saturday’s preseason loss to the Texans, Brady was measured in his response. 

“Everyone knows how I feel about that,” Brady said, with “that” seemingly meaning working with Guerrero. “I’m just happy that he’s out there playing and healthy and building his confidence. I think that’s what everyone’s out there to try to do. Different types of experiences that you have force you to do different things, and I’m just proud of his effort.”  

Gronkowski takes the field vs. Texans for first preseason action since 2012

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Gronkowski takes the field vs. Texans for first preseason action since 2012

HOUSTON -- When Rob Gronkowski took the field with his teammates for Saturday's preseason matchup with the Texans, that came as no surprise. That he was wearing his large arm pad on his left arm? That was unexpected.

Gronkowski often dresses in full uniform for preseason games, but he hasn't taken a preseason snap since 2012. The arm pad typically stays in the locker room. That he had it on at NRG Stadium signalled that he'd be on the field for some exhibition work for the first time in five years. 

Gronkowski started the game for the Patriots offense, as did Tom Brady, and played 15 snaps. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end was not targeted in the passing game, but he did help run off the Texans defense, clearing room for Rex Burkhead to take a dump-off 16 yards at the end of the first quarter. 

That Gronkowski escaped unscathed is obviously good news for the Patriots, but the fact that he played at all may signal a slightly different approach for the team and its injury-prone tight end. Gronkowski saw plenty of work in joint practices against the Texans at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, but Bill Belichick and his staff obviously thought some work in a game situation would be good for him. 

Brady played 17 snaps and completed 6-of-9 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown to Burkhead. Brady was drilled by Ufomba Kamalu -- someone who may be on the Patriots radar after Kamalu had a good two-day stretch of joint practices -- but found Burkhead for a 22-yard score five plays later.