Bill Belichick adores versatility in his New England Patriots players, but it doesn’t just take physical tools to be versatile. Players also have to be football smart to assume multiple roles in the Patriots’ offense and defense.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, for all of his off-field goofiness, possesses both.
“Rob is a versatile athlete, but he’s also a versatile guy mentally,” Belichick recently told MMQB. “He can handle a lot of different assignments. Some guys can’t. Either they mentally can’t do it, or it’s just too much and their game slows down. They don’t play to the same skill set you see athletically because they’re thinking too much. That’s not the case with Rob.”
Gronkowski admits he, like many tight ends and receivers before him, had trouble learning the Patriots’ complex offensive playbook early in his New England tenure. But after some tongue lashings from quarterback Tom Brady, he figured it out.
“Many, many times you have to be a football mind,” Gronkowski said. “I’ve seen a lot of athletic juggernauts throughout high school, college, even the NFL who can’t play the game. When you first get (to the league), it’s learning a whole new language. You have to learn the playbook inside and out. You have to learn code words for each play. You have to learn defenses. You have to just have football knowledge. Without football knowledge, it doesn’t matter how much skill you have. …
“Tom is a teacher… At first he just tells you what to do. If you don’t get it right after that, he’ll come at you hard. He’d come at you really hard back in the day. He’s not really like that anymore, at age 39. But back in the day, like six years ago, he used to come at me hard if I didn’t do it right.”
In a fantasy football-dominated world, most only care about Gronkowski’s pass-catching prowess. But he’s also perhaps the best blocking tight end in the NFL, and that allows the Patriots’ offense as a whole to more flexible.
“He can block like an offensive tackle,” Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman told MMQB. “Nobody can run-block like him.”
Gronkowski currently is nursing a hamstring injury and could be out until Week 4, when the Patriots face the Bills. Roman and the Bills likely are hoping he stays out an extra week.
Thumbnail photo via Jim O’Connor/USA TODAY Sports Images