Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was so excited about being cleared to play in Sunday’s season opener against Miami that he took it upon himself Monday to announce he’d be playing.
On Tuesday, coach Bill Belichick tempered that excitement.
“I’m glad that Rob is optimistic about his situation,” Belichick said in his weekly conference call. “We’ll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything and everybody.
“With all due respect to Rob, I’m glad he feels the way he does, but in the end, we’ll have to make the decision we feel is best for the team.”
It’s impossible to predict how much Gronkowski will play Sunday.
Gronkowski could be on a snap count, or he could have a standout performance, as he did in his 2013 return, making eight catches for 114 yards in a Week 7 loss to the Jets.
Nonetheless, it was an intriguing response from Belichick. Gronkowski said Monday he broke his own news to avoid answering questions all week.
On Tuesday, it seemed as if Belichick was backtracking, possibly to disguise how much the tight end will play.
Later in the conference call, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels elaborated slightly on the situation.
“Rob’s been practicing and we’ve been out doing some different things, building our offensive systems and packages as we go,” McDaniels said. “Whatever we can, or are available to use him to do, however big, small, whatever the decision is at the end of the week, he’ll be ready to do it.
“We’re going to try and do what we think is the right thing to do to win the game this week. That would encompass the way we try to use all of our guys.
“When Gronkowski plays on Sunday against Miami, whatever that capacity may be, the greatest challenge will likely be how quickly he can get in sync with the offense.’’
Belichick was asked about the biggest obstacle a player faces in returning from an injury.
“Even though players are experienced, and so are coaches, and a player hasn’t played in the preseason, there’s still game speed and game situations, and all the communication that goes on during a game, whether it’s on offense, defense, or in the kicking game, that’s just different in practice,” Belichick said.
“You have to be ready to handle that and work with your teammates in those conditions.”
Quarterback Tom Brady hopes Gronkowski is ready to play against the Dolphins. He said Gronkowski is not only a reliable target, but that his presence helps everyone else tremendously.
“When he’s out there, he’s obviously a great target because of his size, his speed, his agility, his ability to catch the football in traffic,” Brady said.
“That’s what he’s done over the course of his career. That’s why he’s got so many touchdowns, because he’s got such a big catch radius that you put the ball in certain areas and he can go up and make the play.”