MOBILE, Ala. — As the pass settled softly into the receiver's hands in the end zone, a mini-roar could be heard from the sparse crowd at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
It was appropriate that it was a mini-roar, as it was a mini-Gronkowski who made the catch.
Glenn Gronkowski, the younger brother of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, wouldn't be considered mini under most circumstances — he is 6 feet 3 inches and 234 pounds — but compared with his famous 6-6, 265-pound brother, the description is understandable.
In fact, when the younger Gronkowski, 22, caught that pass during a South squad practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl, an AFC scout muttered, "Oh, that's Baby Gronk.''
Gronkowski's route on the touchdown catch looked awfully familiar. A little stutter-step at the snap before charging down the seam, looking over his shoulder and snagging the pass from Alabama's Jake Coker.
He looked every bit an accomplished receiver — despite the fact he had never played tight end before this week.
Gronkowski was a fullback at Kansas State but has been working at multiple positions here: fullback, tight end, slot receiver, and special teams.
Though he has a pretty good source for tips on how to master the tight end position, Glenn hadn't yet tapped into that source as of midweek.
"Not really actually,'' he said. "[Rob] had a busy week last week and I just got invited last week and I didn't really want to bother him during that playoff game. He was upset after the [loss to the Broncos] so I really haven't asked him for too much yet.''
Gronkowski acknowledged it was a heavy workload when he arrived in town but he was eager to jump right in.
"Three positions, a whole new offense on top of that," he said. "We got it thrown at us at 11 p.m. Monday and 12 hours later we came out here for practice.
"To learn three different positions in that short amount of time and a new offense with new verbiage has definitely been difficult, but I definitely want to show that I can go out there and learn and adjust to that stuff.''
Reminded that versatility is the hallmark of the Patriots roster, Gronkowski, who accounted for touchdowns rushing, receiving, and passing last season, said he would love the opportunity to play with Rob and that he had a meeting planned with New England.
"Yeah, that'd be awesome," said Gronkowski, the youngest of five boys (Dan and Chris also have NFL careers, while Gordie was a pro baseball player). "I've actually never played with any of my brothers before — they've always been too old.
"So to be on the same team — everyone else has played together — that'd be a dream come true.''
In a bit of a surprise, Gronkowski said that when the brothers get together, the discussions rarely center around gridiron happenings.
"We don't talk much football,'' said Gronkowski, who appropriately enough has the word "family" written on his Kansas State helmet. "You know, we say, 'congratulations,' after games and all that, but other than that, we don't really talk much technique. When we're around each other we just try to have fun.''
No surprise there.
A Harvard presence
Another player with local ties that impressed was Harvard offensive tackle Cole Toner. The 6-7, 295-pounder didn't look out of place banging heads with defenders from the power leagues.
"There's a lot of great players in the Ivy League, and I was challenged every game,'' said Toner. "But the combination of size, strength, and the counters to moves is a little bit different. But I thought I handled things pretty well.''
Toner said he's made contact with about 30 of the 32 NFL teams and listed the Colts, Jets, Cardinals, and Seahawks among those that showed the most interest.
He said teams like his athleticism and physicality and told him to "work on my strength, my hands, my punch, and my pass pro.''
"He's learning the techniques that we're teaching and he's demonstrated that he has some ability — got a little physicalness to him,'' said Cowboys coach (and Princeton graduate) Jason Garrett, who is in charge of the North squad and appreciates having a fellow Ivy Leaguer on the field. "Really good to see him out here.''
Cowboys/North offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was similarly impressed with Toner.
"He has a nice competitive mind-set, and that's a big part of playing in the NFL,'' said Linehan. "Big and strong and smart. Those are three things you look for out of an offensive lineman to be successful, and I believe he's got all three.''
Belichick on hand
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was among the numerous head coaches scouting players from the stands. Belichick, along with player personnel man Nick Caserio and other staffers, was spotted at the South practice at Fairhope Municipal Stadium Tuesday and at the North workout at Ladd-Peebles Wednesday . . . UMass receiver Tajae Sharpe injured his quadriceps during Wednesday's practice and is a scratch for Saturday's game . . . Jeff Driskel, who was drafted by the Red Sox as an outfielder with the 863d pick in 2013, is one of four QBs on the North roster. He spent three years at Florida and finished up at Louisiana Tech. He has great size (6-4, 234) and can really zip it . . . Ohio State star Braxton Miller had the line of the week when the QB-turned-receiver was asked what position he'd like to play at the NFL level. "Playmaker!'' he said with a big smile. Miller has been used exclusively at receiver here and said he models his game after Steelers star Antonio Brown. "I think I can be explosive like AB,'' he said.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.