On Monday Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski declared himself "good to go" in his recovery from the torn ACL suffered last December, saying that he would be on the field Sunday afternoon with the rest of his teammates for the regular season opener in Miami.
A day later, on his weekly conference call with the New England media, New England head coach Bill Belichick was a bit less definitive in regards to the status of his star pass catcher after a summer in which the tight end sat out the entire preseason and didn't take part into 11-on-11 practice until the very end of training camp.
"Well, I'm glad that Rob's optimistic about his situation," Belichick said. "We'll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything, everybody and see where everybody is at and do what we feel like is best for the team. 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 that we feel is best for the team and we'll do that as we go through the week."
The coach went on to make it clear that even though players can try to prepare for game action even while missing extended time, that it's still a final hurdle to get on the field and be ready for the final step of the process.
"Even though players are experienced and so are coaches, when you start the preseason – in your example, a player hasn't played in preseason, there's still game speed and game situations and all the communication that goes on in the game, whether it's on offense, defense or in the kicking game, that's just different in practice. You have to be ready to handle that and work with your teammates in those conditions and that kind of timeframe and those type of game situations that change so fluidly," Belichick said. "You can try to create some situations in practice but a lot of practice is done in segments because it's more efficient that way – first down, second down, third down, punt team, kickoff return team. It's hard to go from one of those to another in practice or you'd be out there all day in the time it takes it get it organized that quickly. But that's not the way it is in a game. Your mind has to transfer situations and transfer them very quickly because every play takes on a new down and distance or possibly field position could be any of the three segments of the game. Players that aren't in the game need to be able to have that time on the sideline to make adjustments and be ready to anticipate things that are going to happen the next series and all that. You don't get good at those things with your teammates without being able to do them. It takes some time. Guys that don't play have to make that ground up."
Belichick's top offensive assistant, coordinator Josh McDaniels, sounded somewhat optimistic that big No. 87 would indeed be ready to go against the Dolphins, at least in some capacity.
"Rob has been practicing, and we've been doing some different things, building our offensive system and packages as we go throughout the course of the year," McDaniels said of New England's transformational offensive weapon. "He's been a part of that. Whatever we can or are available to use him to do – however big, small, whatever the decision is at the end of the week – and he'll be ready to do it."