FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski ended all speculation on Monday when he announced to the media that he will play against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
It was a rare moment of honesty and directness from a Patriots organization that typically follows a strict code of secrecy and silence when it comes to injuries. The Dolphins now must prepare for Gronkowski, surgically repaired knee and all.
Gronkowski is just nine months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, and now the hope is that he’ll stay healthy for all 16 games. It isn’t just the knee that Gronk has to worry about but also his forearm and back, both of which have undergone multiple surgeries in the past.
Gronkowski’s announcement had Patriots fans — and fantasy owners — enthused, while Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin told the Miami media that his team was “fully prepared” to play against Gronkowski all summer.
It might not matter how much time opposing teams dedicate to preparing for this Patriots offense, however, which might explain why the Patriots approached Gronkowski’s return so openly — they’ll be tough to stop regardless.
The Patriots were seventh in total offense, 10th in passing and third in scoring last season, but they weren’t consistently dominant, as they have been in years’ past. Quarterback Tom Brady obviously missed Gronkowski, as well as running back Shane Vereen and slot receiver Danny Amendola, as all three players missed time with injuries. Brady had trouble getting on the same page as rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, and he relied on his buddy Julian Edelman perhaps too heavily.
This year will be different, however, and as long as Gronkowski is on the field, the Patriots will be in the running for “best offense in the NFL.” Brady has trusted players around him, and bigger, taller receivers like Dobson and Brandon LaFell add another element to the Patriots’ offense.
The Patriots also can return to relying on deception with a second starting-caliber tight end on the field in Tim Wright, who can co-exist with Gronkowski.
Outside of Gronkowski and Edelman, who should be on the field for every snap, the remaining three offensive skill-position players can be rotated on and off the field. Dobson, Thompkins, Amendola, LaFell, Wright, Vereen, Stevan Ridley, James White, James Develin and Michael Hoomanawanui won’t all get equal opportunities, but all 10 of those players will have a role on offense, which makes game planning and preparing for this Patriots team very difficult. It also creates a nightmare for any fantasy owners of those 10 players.
The Dolphins have prepared for Gronkowski all summer, but they can’t be prepared for the Patriots’ offense in six days. No one, including the Patriots, has seen how powerful Brady and his offense can be this season.