It's a hard thing to do, this 'knocking the rust off.'
It's one thing to get into shape and stay there for an entire season, as physical as the sport of pro football has become. But because of that physicality, how does a player find the balance between 'too much' work and 'not enough?'
Especially when you've played in only two preseason games over the past six years.
That's Rob Gronkowski's conundrum. And Gronk is one of the few players on the current Patriots' roster who hasn't yet seen the field in the first two weeks of this preseason. But if anyone can handle the rust and shake it off quickly, it's probably Gronk.
"It's always a coach's decision on whether or not I'm playing in these games or not. I'm ready at all times," Gronkowski told the media this weekend. "I mean, whatever it is this week, I don't know the situation, but I'm ready to play.
"I'll prepare all week like I'm going to play, like I do every other week," he added. But he also threw in for good measure - "You want to go out there, get the timing down, get some live reps."
That part is understandable. Players want to play. But they also want to play in meaningful games, or at least play long enough to reach contractual incentives if they have them, which could be at least part of the present story in Gronk's case.
And let's add the obvious here as well. For all of his all-world talent and ability, Gronk's persona has one major drawback. He plays with an all-out, reckless abandon, which means he can spend (and has spent) some of his potential playing time on the shelf recuperating due to injury.
Facts are facts, and Rob Gronkowski has played in 16 games just twice in his previous eight NFL seasons, and not since 2011. For Gronk to be "Gronk," he needs to be healthy. And available to play.
"You always want practice reps, and no matter how good you think you are or how great the chemistry you think it is, you can always get better, no matter what," Gronkowski said. "There's always so much detail in football that, no matter what, you can get better. Even if you think you have it down, you can keep working to get better."
Translation: "I'd like to be out there, 'cuz I like to play and I need to stay sharp."
Week Three of the preseason tends to be the usual dress rehearsal for the regular season, so if there is to be a Gronk-sighting this year as there was a year ago in the preseason, this week would be the week. But are we really in a rush to see him out there?
And knowing the receiving corps has taken a bit of a beating within its personnel this summer, is discretion not the better part of valor (or survival) here, so Tom Brady has a reliable, dependable and ultra-talented target to throw to when the games do start to count?
I'm all for knocking off rust, and getting in a few reps or whatever. But I'm also for Gronk being able to play like Gronk, for the long haul. The coaches know what he can do, and we know what he can do, when he's healthy.
If we see ya' this week, so be it. But we wanna see ya' in September too, big fella.
Preseason nitpicking, Week Two
I know, I know. It was a preseason game. Utterly meaningless.
Still, which team looked more like a defending Super Bowl champ on the field last Thursday night at Gillette Stadium? Certainly not the one-time-Patriot-conquering Philadelphia Eagles.
Did you have any fun watching that one, Lane Johnson?
As for reading between the lines of a 37-20 New England win, we're left with three impressions on needed improvement:
- It would be nice to get some of the receiving corps in sync with the QB. There were a few long balls thrown by Tom Brady during the Patriots' second series of the game where it appeared the receiver (Philip Dorsett-twice, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Hogan) could have made a play if the ball had been in a better spot.
- We know the coaches like cornerback Keion Crossen enough to have drafted him this spring, and to have given him plenty of opportunity during practice and the preseason games. But his mistake-prone first half last Thursday night (two pass interference penalties, one dropped INT) was enough for even a rookie to have to endure in just one game. Good thing it was a preseason game.
- Crossen isn't the only young defensive back experiencing some growth pains. The jury may still be out on younger guys J.C. Jackson and Jomal Wiltz, who were both burned on big plays in the second half. But what about a veteran like Jason McCourty - new to this team but not new to the NFL? A tough call on his behalf may need to be made, soon.
Injury bug bites again
For a second straight year, the Patriots lost their top draft pick to an injury before any meaningful football could be played.
Isaiah Wynn's torn Achilles tendon came as the rookie from Georgia was lining up at right tackle Thursday night - which was not the position he had primarily played in college. But as many are aware, versatility on the offensive line has been a key to the Patriots' success up front over the years. That looks to be what was being worked on - line versatility and depth - when the injury occurred.
It's precisely that depth that will help fix the problem of Wynn's expected season-long absence. While you can't rule out a veteran pick up before the start of the regular season, the team depth on the line remains solid - provided that Marcus Cannon can resume an expected role as the starter at right tackle.
Expect LaAdrian Waddle's role as a swing tackle to become more pronounced on the right side, at least until Cannon can reclaim the spot on a full-time basis. Young vets Ulrick John and Cole Croston will also have the chance for increased playing time.
Yes, it stinks to lose your top pick two years in a row. But it stinks to lose anyone to injury in the preseason, period. One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity, isn't it? And this team has been able to remain championship-competitive for almost two decades largely due to a "next man up" philosophy.
Expect that philosophy to continue, henceforth.
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is entering his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.