Most Patriots players returned to Gillette Stadium this week to begin training in the team's offseason strength and conditioning program – the precursor to springtime organized team activity (OTA) and mini-camp practices. They often compare it to a "first-day-of-school" environment, with old teammates reconnecting with each other and new ones getting to know everyone.
Tight end Troy Niklas is among those excited to be at work in his new job. Entering his fifth NFL season, the veteran free agent signed with New England earlier this month and told reporters this week that he's anxious to get on the field with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, to whom he drew comparisons a few years back when Niklas was transitioning from the University of Notre Dame to the NFL.
"I'm really excited about," Niklas emphasized. "When I was in college, I didn't watch a ton of football because we were just studying and worrying about ourselves, but when I was coming out for the draft, [analysts] were saying, 'You know, [Gronkowski] is a guy that you're similar to.' I really got to watch some tape on him and see what a beast he is. The guy is just a monster… he's definitely a guy that I think any tight end would want to model their game for.
"He's obviously one of the best tight ends that has ever played and I'm excited to learn from him and play with him. There's just something about players like him that have had success on that kind of level. They have little nuanced things that they know and they kind of just pass down, and so I'm just excited to learn some of those little things that he does in his game that makes him great."
The 25-year-old Niklas spent his first four pro seasons with Arizona, the team that selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Prior to that, however, he took an official draft prospect visit to Foxborough and has ever since been intrigued by the idea of playing for New England. When he came back for his free agent visit this most recent Easter Sunday, he was convinced the Patriots were the right fit for him at this stage of his career.
"Pretty much when I got here," he continued, "I pretty much knew instantly that this is the place I wanted to be. I just really loved the culture and everything about this place, and so it really wasn't a question going back [to the Cardinals]. I was telling my wife before I flew back 'Hey, I think this is the place for me,' and she was like 'OK, great.' So on Tuesday morning [April 3], I signed everything and sent it back. It was pretty quick."
Niklas did have to make one more nerve-wracking trip back to the Desert Southwest, however, to be with his wife, Chloe, who was about to give birth to their first child. He made it just in time to see his daughter, Romy, enter the world. The same day he became a father, he also officially became a Patriot.
"It's been awesome," he remarked about the start of his new chapter in New England. "Everyone's a hard worker and we're just getting after it, so I'm excited about that. Everything I do here is going to have to be earned. We haven't gotten into any specifics, so I'm just looking forward to getting to work and showing them what I can do. I have faith that they'll place me where they think I can best help the team."