ROB GRONKOWSKI, TIGHT END
Q: Is it nice to have your brother Glenn Gronkowski back on the practice squad?
RG: For sure.
Q: You sort of knew that was coming last week, didn't you?
RG: I didn't know exactly, but I said he did good and hopefully we see him back, so I'm definitely glad to have him back.
Q: Was he just sticking around with you?
Q: What's it like just being able to practice with your younger brother?
RG: It's great. It's kind of like going out there with just anyone else. I'll still go out there with the same goals. I go out there to get better every single day, go out there with some high intensity, with some focus to go out there and help the team to develop to get ready for Sundays.
Q: Did you and Glenn ever get a chance to play together in the backyard growing up since he is so much younger than you?
RG: Oh yeah, growing up, we played everything together – basketball, backyard baseball, mini sticks, whatever it is, you name it. We never played on a team together, but you name anything that you can do as a kid with your brother growing up in the backyard, and we've done it.
Q: Is it significant to you to not be on the injury report for the first time this week?
RG: I really don't even pay attention really to the injury report. That's for the team to put out there, but every single week I just try to go out and do the most I can every week. I've been doing everything now, so that's why I'm off it.
Q: Was there one specific day or point over the last few weeks that it became full-go for you again?
RG: You just build it up over the weeks, over the days. It's been now a week or two or so since I've just been going full, so I can't really recall the day. I've just been building it up over the weeks. It went good. It was a very smooth process.
Q: How different does the Steelers defense look now without having Dick LeBeau as the defensive coordinator?
RG: I mean, the Steelers over the years really haven't changed that much. They've got a lot of the same core guys, and they're always big, always physical. You're always going in for a tough matchup when you go versus the Steelers defense, no matter what. Over the past few years, I feel like it's kind of the same, a little difference here and there, but the majority overall, I would say is about the same.
Q: Is this going to be your first time playing in Pittsburgh?
RG: No, I've played in Pittsburgh a few times now.
Q: What is the atmosphere like there?
RG: The atmosphere is just a football atmosphere. You've got great high school football there, you've got great college football there, you've got great NFL football there. It's just a football atmosphere. They love their Steelers, they love going to the games, and it's going to be a great atmosphere to come around Sunday.
Q: What do you recall about the breakout game you had in Pittsburgh in November 2010?
RG: I mean, I'm not really trying to look back and focus on the game that was six or seven years ago, my rookie year. It's a whole different ballgame now. It's a different team. It's a different team for us, it's a different team for them. We've just got to really focus on the Steelers of this year.
Q: What are your thoughts with regards to player safety on the NFL's decision to not suspend Vontaze Burfict for his actions towards LeGarrette Blount in Sunday's game?
RG: Yeah, it's all up to the league. I've got really no say in anything, so I'm just really focused on what I've got to do, and that's to prepare for the Steelers this week. That's all really what I'm on to, is the Steelers.
Q: Did you happen to hear from the league with anything regarding fines for anything you were involved with in the game Sunday?
RG: No. I haven't heard of anything. Have you? Sometimes you guys know more info than I do, no lie.
Q: Can you talk about the challenges as a receiver to learn as many routes as you have to within this offense and to have to be able to use the entire field?
RG: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, the more you can do, the better off you are in this league, I feel like. If you can just run one route, that really just simplifies you. You want to be able to go out there and be able to expand what you can do as a player. When I first got here and everything, I felt like I really couldn't expand my game. I was just trying to focus on what I could do at just the tight end position, but it's great to go out there, learn other positions. You understand the game of football more. You understand the offense more if you know other positions, if you go play other positions too, and lineup at other spots. Just overall, you definitely just don't learn everything right away overnight. It just takes time, going out to practice, going through training camps over the years, learning other positions, going out, running other routes, and just understanding the game of football. It's great to see many players adjust on the fly to different positions, and it's great to have a lot of players on the team that can do that.
Q: How important is it to you to have a connection with Tom Brady like Wes Welker had with him?
RG: Yeah, I mean when I first got here, I definitely looked up to many players with that connection to see what they do. It just takes, over time, just a lot of work and a lot of practice together to gain that chemistry. I mean, what player that is a receiver, tight end or running back wouldn't want that type of connection with their quarterback? I've definitely got to take strides every single day to get there.
Q: When you caught the touchdown pass from Tom Brady on Sunday, you were mic'd up and said that was the only place he could have put the ball.
RG: I was mic'd up last game? I hope I wasn't. I didn't know I was.
Q: There was at least some audio of you coming to the sideline and saying that, but regarding that connection with Tom Brady, it appears as though you anticipate and see the same things he sees from the other side. On that particular touchdown play, he saw that was the only spot he could have put the ball, and you were ready for it. Is that just a matter of repetition?
RG: I would say it's a matter of everything – conversations, off the field in the meeting room, skill, just placement of the ball, being able to go down and grab it. It doesn't happen overnight, either. I definitely know to be aware that Tom [Brady] could put the ball at any position at any time on the field, so to be ready and adjust your body in any way to get to the ball. He saw it open. I truly believed that it wasn't going to come to me. I felt like the coverage and everything [was] there – but the way he can just sneak a ball in and have the receiver be the only guy being able to make the play is just an unreal characteristic that he has as a quarterback.
DONT'A HIGHTOWER, LINEBACKER
Q: Is this your first podium as a Patriot?
DH: Nah, I got lucky enough to do it last year.
Q: Do you think you would still consider the defense a work in progress, as was mentioned during training camp, now six weeks into the season?
DH: I think we definitely have our identity mapped out for us. There's always room for improvement. But we're still learning, still working, definitely moving in the right direction as far as the time of the season works. This is the time you want to have that identity and be able to press forward. I think defensively we have that mindset. We have a few things that we have to pick up on and I think that'll make us a lot better.
Q: [Devin] McCourty mentioned yesterday about third down defense and how it's not sustainable to not be getting off the field on third down. I assume that's one of the things you're talking about?
DH: Absolutely. Again, one of the biggest things we want to do on defense is to try to get off the field on third down. To be able to give the offense, Tom [Brady], give those guys the ball. We do really good on first and second downs and then third downs have been a little bit of trouble for us. We've worked on it really hard this week. We'll have another shot at it today so hopefully we'll be able to get that corrected before the end of the season.
Q: Is part of that creating turnovers?
DH: That'll definitely help. But again, turnovers are one thing, but third down is third down. That's something that's going to come up unless you're forcing turnovers first and second down, which if it was that easy, I think everybody would do it. Ultimately, it's going to have to come down to us winning on third down as well. We're going to have to win on third down. We're going to have to win in the red area. Those are key components to winning a game. Those are the things we're going to have to tighten up on.
Q: Is there a drop off from when they go from Le'Veon Bell to DeAngelo Williams?
DH: Not at all. I think DeAngelo Williams is a great back, one of the best backs in the league. He's been [overshadowed] a lot in his career, but he does a lot of great things with the ball in his hands. He does a lot of great things for Pittsburgh. With Le'Veon Bell, it's just a different way of how they get him the ball. But with DeAngelo [Williams] with the ball in his hands is just as dangerous.
Q: What did it mean for you to be the first Patriots linebacker since Mike Vrabel in almost a decade to win the AFC Defensive Player of the Week this past week?
DH: It means a lot. Definitely appreciate the recognition, but I think we all know that one guy doesn't make the team, especially on defense. Definitely have a lot of help with those other 10, 11 guys that help. I was just the only one who was able to get singled out. But I appreciate it.
Q: This team has a history in this organization of having middle linebackers like Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and Jerod Mayo. Do you kind of feel like you're in the line of those guys as well?
DH: That's saying a lot right there. I definitely lean on a lot of those guys. Still talk to [Jerod] Mayo day in and day out. I talk to Tedy [Bruschi] when I can. I talk to Willie Mac [Willie McGinest] throughout the year. Still try to gain a lot of knowledge from those guys. They see a lot of stuff. It says a lot for me to kind of be put in that and I appreciate it.
Q: You still talk to Jerod Mayo every day?
DH: No, not every day. The guy's got a job. But whenever we do talk, we try to talk every other week or whatever. You know, just to say 'hey what's up', check on the family and stuff.
Q: Does Jerod Mayo see things during the game that he can help you out with?
DH: He shoots me a couple texts every now and then about certain plays and stuff, but it's all in fun. He's still a great teacher.
Q: Is the defense's recent lack of pressure kind of a scheme-based thing going against the more athletic quarterbacks the last couple weeks?
DH: Possibly. I don't want to dive all into that. That's something that we have to do, players on the field, just being able to play with the hand that we're dealt. So regardless of what the situation is whether we're rushing three or six, seven or four, we have got to get pressure and get off the field. We let Matty P [Matt Patricia] and Bill [Belichick] take care of the X's and O's and we'll take care of what's in between the lines.
Q: How do you approach your role as a leader and a captain? What does that mean to you to what you have to do to fulfill that role?
DH: Lucky enough, I don't think I have to do too much as far as that goes. I just kind of go lead by example I guess, just handle my business, and lucky enough, guys respect me enough to see that and work off of it.
Q: What makes Le'Veon Bell so unique? Is he one of the most versatile backs you guys will see this year?
DH: Absolutely. You can just turn on the film and see where he's at. The guy plays running back, he plays receiver, they line him up everywhere, they motion him. He's not a one-trick pony. He has an extended route tree. They do a good job of being able to get him the ball whether it's screens, out of the backfield or passes. We've have to do a good job of just knowing where he's at all times.
Q: Along those lines of versatility in their offense, they've got speed at a lot of different spots. They give the deep ball, they also throw a lot underneath, they've got a lot of gadget plays. Do they stress that to you in terms of preparation as much as any offense?
DH: I wouldn't say as much as any. I mean every offense their holes or whatever. But they do a good job of stretching the field horizontally and vertically. They've got Le'Veon [Bell], DeAngelo Williams, all those quick guys on the catch-and-runs. Then they have Sammie Coates, Antonio Brown, all those guys stretching the field. We've just got to know what's going on, look at the film and just getting the play in the playbook.
Q: When you're on the sideline and you're making adjustments during the game, do you prefer the tablet or the old school pictures?
DH: Half the time it's Matty P [Matt Patricia] just telling me what to do or drawing something up. Half the time I'm not really grabbing the tablet. I guess paper is usually a lot easier. Not worrying about things going down.
Q: You're sort of an old school guy.
DH: Yeah, I've been told that.
Q: You and Jamie [Collins] haven't been able to be on the field every game thus far this year. But when you are on the field together, how much easier or how helpful is he to you? How are you guys able to play off each other to be effective out there?
DH: It's a lot more fluent having Jamie [Collins] out there. A lot of the times we coordinate things a lot together. I usually take care of the front, he takes care of the secondary. We have our own way of doing things. Sometimes Jamie [Collins] is just like, 'No, you go ahead and you just make the calls and I'll play off of you'. It helps having him out there. I mean, he does everything so he makes it a lot easier for me. Anytime I can have him out there with me I'm 100 percent having him out there.
Q: Is it ever frustrating that circumstances outside of your control keeps you from not always being able to be on the field together?
DH: Maybe, but that's part of it scheme-wise and everything else. With us out there we're able to do a lot of different things, a lot of versatility. So hopefully we can both stay out there.