During his Wednesday morning press briefing, Bill Belichick was asked to describe Rob Gronkowski's abilities as a leader.
"Underrated" was the first word that came to the head coach's mind.
Yes, he has cultivated an image as a fun-loving guy on and off the field, but when it comes time to buckle down and prepare for a football game, the coach pointed out, Gronkowski is as dedicated as anyone.
A survey of the Patriots locker room found further anecdotal evidence of this.
"Just the way he goes about his business. He's working hard in the weight room, working hard on the practice field. You know, he never takes a play off," observed DE/co-captain Rob Ninkovich. "On game days, he goes out there and performs on a very high level. Anytime you have a guy like that, you respect him, no matter what."
"Absolutely," added QB Tom Brady, another team co-captain. "I think just what his mental toughness has been as an athlete, what he's overcome the last few years with [injuries to] his arm, his back and then his knee, I just think he sets a great example for our team of the work ethic. He's a fun guy to be around, and then ultimately goes out and performs as best as he possibly can and does it with toughness no matter what he's asked to do, whether it's in the run game.
"Obviously he gets a lot of attention for catching touchdown passes, but I mean, he does all the dirty work, too. So, he's in there blocking for the backs and in pass protection and he takes a lot of pride in all those things. So, he's been out there every day this year practicing as hard as he can, and I think it's just showing a huge commitment by him and really to all of us players of what it means to him. And I think he's been a great example for all of us."
So, there's Gronkowski's work ethic, but also his personality, which may not be an obvious leadership trait until you examine it more closely.
"People define leadership in many different ways. I think people have this idea of great leaders and how they're supposed to be," remarked special teams co-captain Matthew Slater. "The thing about Rob that makes him a great leader is that he's selfless. He's one of the most selfless guys I've been around. For him to have accomplished all that he's accomplished and to remain humble the way he has and continue to serve and be there for his teammates, it's really been impressive. I think that's what makes him a great leader."
Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski, whose locker is very close to Gronkowski's, is one of the few players on the current roster who was a veteran when Gronk arrived in Foxborough in 2010.
"All I know about Gronk," the kicker said, "is he's fun to be around, works hard, and he's very good. That's infectious, I guess. He's just a great teammate. There's no other way to put it. He's definitely a guy you want on your team, not just in terms of production. I don't think I've ever seen the guy have a bad day or not have a smile on his face, which can go a long way when it's the same old monotony every day.
"Sometimes things seem low – you lose a game or something – and you see this guy going out there happy, having fun, and doing well. That's definitely something you miss, playing professional sports. It's just nice to see. Takes you back to when sports was a lot of fun and not all the extra stuff around it to complicate it. To see him do well and do it his way is awesome."
"He has fun, and he has a childlike joy about him when it comes to the game of football," added Slater. "I think we all feed off of that. We get a lot of energy from him. Football's a game. It's supposed to be fun. Prime example: Rob Gronkowski."
One of the pleasant early surprises of the Patriots' 2015 season has been the emergence of Dion Lewis. Through the first two games, the diminutive running back (generously listed at 5-8, 195) has carried the ball 22 times for an average of exactly 5 yards per attempt. He's also averaging 15 yards on 10 receptions and scored his first touchdown for New England this past Sunday in Buffalo.
However, Lewis, who'll turn 25 this Sunday, has also fumbled the ball in each of the first two games. He was fortunate that Gronkowski recovered the first one down near the Steelers' goal line in Week 1, but he lost his second fumble a week later on a screen pass against the Bills.
When talking about the Jaguars this week, Lewis brought up the fact that their defense is capable of creating turnovers.
"I just have to do better at that, obviously," Lewis said of his trouble holding onto the football. "I'm going to work – work, work, work – to try to get it fixed, and I'm going to get it fixed. It's all fixable things that I can do. I just have to do a better job when the ball's in my hands."
What makes Lewis' contributions on offense more startling is the fact that he's fumbled twice already, but that Belichick continues to give him opportunities. Former Patriots running back Stevan Ridley had well-documented issues holding onto the ball, and when he coughed it up, he often found himself yanked from the game. Lewis, however, insisted that he never worried about being benched.
"During the game, I really didn't think of anything else. I was just thinking, 'Damn, I messed up,'" he explained. "But I had to get my mind back ready. I never thought I was going to sit out. You can't get down on yourself. Your teammates are still counting on you. So, you just have to brush it off, and when adversity strikes, you have to overcome it. Just keep pushing because you have 10 other guys on the field that are counting on you."
Overall, Lewis has had a positive impact on the Patriots offense in the early going, reminding some observers of former back Danny Woodhead.
"I feel I'm doing a pretty good job of picking [the offense] up and doing what I'm told to do," he stated.
Julian Edelman, Quote Factory
Wide receiver Julian Edelman, a reliable talker and provider of quotable material, had perhaps his best day ever in that department.
Edelman discussed a variety of topics Wednesday, including his post-football career.
"There's an old saying: When you're green, you grow, and when you're ripe, you rot. I'm just trying to keep it green, boys," the receiver began.
But when the time comes for Edelman to hand up his cleats?
"I want to be a human cannonball," he smirked.
Coaching, Edelman maintained, is not an option, given the exhaustive amount of time that most staffs put in each week. However, he had this to say about offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
"[He's] like a mad chemist back there, doing his magic… I don't know what he's doing. I'm just going to go with it."
For the second straight practice, o-lineman/co-captain Ryan Wendell (undisclosed illness) did not participate. He was limited the first two practices of last week, before missing last Friday's session and being inactive against the Bills. Wendell, who began training camp on the PUP list, has yet to see action in a game this season.
Meanwhile, LB Dont'a Hightower was added to the injury report with a shoulder injury, as was cornerback Logan Ryan. Safety Tavon Wilson (quad) and running back Travaris Cadet (hamstring) have been removed from the injury report.
Cadet was also one of the practice players of last week. He received a black jersey today along with linebackekr Jonathan Freeney, rookie safety Jordan Richards, practice squad tight end Asante Cleveland, and rookie practice squad linebacker Brandon King.