FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots didn’t have a clear No. 1 tight end during organized team activities. But since minicamp began, there’s been no doubt about who the top dog is.
That would be Rob Gronkowski, the four-time All-Pro who returned to practice Tuesday after sitting out the voluntary portion of the Patriots’ offseason program.
The time off seems to have done Gronkowski well. He cut through the Patriots defense like a tornado during the first two minicamp practices, catching a handful of touchdown passes and punctuating them with wild celebrations.
Patriots newcomer Troy Niklas, one of several tight ends fighting for a roster spot behind Gronkowski, is hoping to pick up some pointers from the fun-loving superstar.
“He’s just such a dominant player out there,” Niklas said after Wednesday practice. “Everything he does is just to dominate his opponent. That’s something that anyone can emulate in our game. So I’m just looking to get some of that.”
After just two days on the field with him, it’s clear Niklas is a big Gronkowski fan.
“He’s frigging hilarious,” Niklas said. “Awesome guy. Guys like that are always fun to have in the locker room. It keeps things loose and fresh out on the practice field. … Guys like that are what brings up the energy for everyone else on the field.”
At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Niklas boasts similar measurables to the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski, whom some evaluators compared him to ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft.
But Niklas, who called that comparison “a disgrace” to Gronkowski, hasn’t come close to matching his new teammate’s NFL production. The Notre Dame product caught just 19 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns in four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before signing with the Patriots earlier this year.
Niklas now is part of a wide-open roster battle, with him, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Will Tye and rookies Ryan Izzo and Shane Wimann fighting for what likely will be just two spots on the depth chart.
“(I’m) just (trying) to continue learning the offense and carve out a role,” Niklas said.
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