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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Availability key for Rex Burkhead during transition to Patriots

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Availability key for Rex Burkhead during transition to Patriots

It can be difficult to pick up the Patriots offense even for players who are on the practice field on a daily basis. For those who aren't? They have some catching up to do. 

It remains to be seen just how much, if at all, that reality will impact how Patriots running backs are deployed moving forward.

Though Mike Gillislee was given what looked like typical "big back" responsibilities early in training camp when the pads were introduced -- he had back-to-back touchdown runs during one of the first goal-line periods of the summer -- he's hardly practiced at all since then, sidelined with a reported hamstring issue. 

During joint practices with the Texans last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the difficulties that a new player faces when he's trying to learn a system and a new set of teammates without the benefits of practice time.

"Yeah, well that’s one of the challenges of training camp," Belichick said. "No pads in the spring so you only have so many padded practices and preseason games at this time of year. Each one that’s missed is an opportunity to improve on the field, but what we can’t do is let what we can do take away from what we can’t do.

"The things that we can do in terms of training or whatever drills or learning experience we can gain, we have to try to gain as much as we can. And then when the opportunity comes to do the things that we can’t do, we have to be able to take advantage of that. Look, this is not the first time a player has ever missed a practice in training camp, so let’s not act like this is an historical event. Every team deals with it every year, but you do the best you can with it. You work through that players individual circumstances and where your team is and you do the best that you can with the opportunities that you have."

Though there's plenty that Gillislee can do in terms of workouts and sitting in on meetings, contrast his situation with that of Rex Burkhead, and the difference in the number of on-the-field opportunities for the two players has been stark.

Burkhead has been present and on the field for the vast majority of Patriots training camp practices, and In Saturday's game against Houston, he saw 13 snaps, finishing with seven carries for 20 yards and three receptions for 50 yards. One of those catches went for a 22-yard touchdown where he freed himself from linebacker Zach Cunningham with a nifty move over the middle of the field. 

"Rex has missed very little time," Belichick said when asked about Burkhead's progress on Sunday. "He’s basically been out there every day and we’ve worked with him in all areas of the game that we think he can contribute in, which is all three downs offensively and the four phases of special teams that he’s been involved with, from Day 1."

Burkhead, who signed a one-year deal with the Patriots this offseason after four years with the Bengals, has been used in a variety of roles, as Belichick alluded, including in hurry-up packages and on the goal line. His frame (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) and his skill set could make Burkhead a viable option as the team's "big back" should Gillislee miss time in the regular season. But he's also a more-than-capable pass-catcher, as he showed against the Texans. 

How he'll be used when the games matter remains to be seen, but he's available, and at this point that may be his most important quality.

Tom Brady: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson among those calling for TB12 method

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Tom Brady: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson among those calling for TB12 method

Tom Brady wants to spread the word. Health. Fitness. Sustaining peak performance, as his new book puts it. And if part of the crowd looking for help happens to include fellow NFL quarterbacks, he's OK with that.

On WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show with Mike Mutnansky and Andy Hart, Brady explained that players like Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have called him for tips that would fall under the "TB12 method" umbrella. 

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"Aaron is seeing that in his play. Russell Wilson, he and I have talked," Brady said. "You see those guys playing better. I think that is a great thing. I think that will make for a better game. If you see a lot of players with more mental experience continue to maximize their length of time in their careers, it will make for a better game as well."

Brady added: “They call me. A lot of teammates, obviously. Players from other teams, athletes in other sports. I think when you’re a 40-year-old athlete, I think they look to you like any veteran player. You always want to help the younger players and that isn’t always on the field, it’s off the field as well. I have had a lot of experience on the field. A lot of people ask me about that, but certainly off the field as well with the choices I make and and the decisions I make that allow me to do something I love to do. I think that is what it comes down to. I love to do it and it never feels like work."

Rob Gronkowski has been one of Brady's teammates who has been interested in some of those off-the-field decisions, and Brady said that he feels as though soon enough more players than not will be looking to train and eat the same way.

"I really think what I do is going to be the norm in the not-too-distant future," Brady explained. "I am really trying to give athletes information. You’ll be able to ask questions and prove the things I have been doing. I think that is a big goal of mine -- take all the lessons I have learned from people I have learned from watching over the years and just start there. You can see a lot of improvements in your own life and in the lives of people that you know and your kids lives. For me to hear other quarterbacks make those types of changes, they are looking for the same things I was looking for. A lot of athletes before me, they didn’t have the right information. I really see this as a new way of life for athletes."

"So many injures that I see and so many guys that retire, a lot of it ends up being the same thing. They haven’t had the right information. Some maybe don’t have the discipline, which discipline is to me is a very learned trait, as well. If you have the discipline and work hard at the right things — you really want to see your investment pay off. The investment and time and energy that you are doing the right thing, you want to see that pay off in terms of improved performance."

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