FOXBOROUGH — Rob Gronkowski, team leader? Rob Gronkowski, mentor?
Don’t laugh. The fun-loving tight end, known just as much for his off-field antics as for his on-field exploits, has turned into a leader for the Patriots, who welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to Gillette Stadium for a Sunday afternoon game.
“Yes, I definitely look at myself as a leader on this team, for sure,” Gronkowski said Thursday before practice. “Some players are vocal leaders and some are more quiet leaders. I just like to go out there and do everything right: Do my job, go out in the weight room, work hard, and show these young kids what it takes to get to the next level, to keep pushing your body to get to where you need to be so when you go out on game day you are ready.”
Gronkowski is coming off a seven-catch, 113-yard receiving game against the Bills, and has already scored four touchdowns this season. He’s caught short passes to extend possessions, but also has gains of 52 and 36 yards through two games.
Hard to believe, but only eight Patriots have been with the team longer than Gronkowski: Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowski, Jerod Mayo, Matthew Slater, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, Julian Edelman, and Rob Ninkovich.
As for Gronkowski’s leadership abilities?
“Probably underrated,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He hasn’t really come across in that role. Rob’s very attentive, very coachable. You tell him what you want him to do, he works very hard to do it the way you want it done.
“He’s a great guy to have on the team. Forget about the talent and all that. Just the way he goes about his job, the way he works, trains in the weight room, his physical conditioning, his mental concentration and focus and desire to do well and improve . . . I mean, very, very good.”
Informed of Belichick’s complimentary words, Gronkowski said, “Coming from him, it’s definitely flattering.”
Brady, the unquestioned team leader, sees a lot of those traits in Gronkowski.
“What he’s overcome the last few years with his arm, his back, and then his knee, I just think he sets a great example for our team,” Brady said. “He gets a lot of attention for catching touchdown passes, but he does all the dirty work, too. He’s in there blocking for the backs and in pass protection and he takes a lot of pride in all those things. He’s been a great example for all of us.”
Play nice, you two
Speaking of Gronkowski, Sunday’s game will once again put him in the company — and close vicinity — of Sergio Brown. These two have a history.
It was Brown who broke Gronkowski’s arm in a 2012 game against Indianapolis, when the safety was playing for the Colts. When the teams met last season, Gronkowski and Brown became tangled well away from the ball, with Gronkowski driving Brown out of bounds and landing on him hard. The move — Gronkowski said he “threw him out of the club” — resulted in a penalty on Gronkowski and a fine of more than $8,000.
Now Brown is playing for Jacksonville, so the player who injured and provoked Gronkowski will be waiting Sunday.
Gronkowski said he’ll be looking forward to it.
“He’s a good player. I have respect for how he prepares for the game, how hard he works, and him as a player,” Gronkowski said. “It’s not just about Sergio Brown, though, it’s about the whole defense, too.”
As for the yapping between the two players?
“It can be fun, depending on how the game is going, what part of the game it is, what quarter, what’s the score. It’s always part of a game, the emotions always come flying high when it comes to Sunday due to all the hitting, all the competing,” Gronkowski said. “But sometimes I do like the yapping. Sometimes I give it, sometimes I get it. It’s all part of the game.”
Linebacker Jonathan Freeny is happy to have a bit more security after signing a one-year extension with the Patriots.
“I was comfortable here already, but it most definitely feels good to get the deal done and get it done quickly to where it’s not a distraction,” said Freeny, whose base salary for the 2016 season will be $1 million, according to the NFL Players Association website, up from $850,000 for this season. He reportedly received a $500,000 signing bonus and can earn another $250,000 in roster bonuses.
Freeny has become a top special teams contributor and backup in his first season with New England. He was awarded a black jersey as a practice player of the week leading up to the Bills game.
“Just going out there and trying to give my best on every play, whether it’s on defense or the scout team or special teams,” Freeny said on what he did to earn the award. “Just working hard out there on the field and giving guys the best look I can, and as far as when I’m on defense, taking those reps and making the best I can of them.”
Wendell out again
For the third straight practice, the only player missing was offensive lineman Ryan Wendell, who has been out for nearly a week with an unspecified illness. Wendell was limited in practice for two days last week, sat out Friday’s workout, then didn’t travel with the Patriots for their game in Buffalo. He’s missed the first two practices this week. Thursday’s injury report was identical to Wednesday’s; in addition to Wendell being out, defensive lineman Dominique Easley (hip), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), and cornerback Logan Ryan (shoulder) were all limited . . . The New England Patriots Foundation will sell raffle tickets for a road trip giveaway until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday. The grand prize winner and a guest will accompany the team to a 2015 road game, with seats on the team plane, a room at the team hotel, two tickets to the game, pregame field passes, and more. Tickets are $10 (must be at least 18 to enter) and are available at www.patriots.com/community.