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October 25. 2013 2:23PM

Patriots' Gronkowski powering up

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It was clear the Patriots were still using the trial version of Rob Gronkowski during his season debut Sunday against the Jets. As he continues to progress toward full strength, though, the Pats will unveil the greatness of Gronk, the hyped-up All-Pro who’s got the lowdown on the end zone.

The Patriots managed Gronkowski’s playing time, as his legs were clearly gassed as the day wore on. The only times he played more than five consecutive snaps were the game’s opening series and the twominute drills to end the half and regulation.

Before long, it’ll be fullmetal Gronkowski, and quarterback Tom Brady should theoretically reap the benefits of his presence within the offense.

Of course, his red-zone pass-catching ability has been second to none since 2010, but Gronkowski will also force defenses to swarm his side of the field, which will give the younger receivers more advantageous matchups. Eventually, the Patriots will trust Gronkowski enough to break out his blocking ability in the run game, something they didn’t utilize much Sunday.

“(I’m) trying to improve my game, and by improving your game, it’s improving your conditioning, improving your strength, improving your routes, improving your blocking,” Gronkowski said. “Every week, just going out there, working hard.”

Gronkowski ran a pass pattern on 38 of his 48 official snaps against the Jets. While he provided the lead block on Brandon Bolden’s goal-line touchdown run, Gronkowski was sparingly used in running situations, with just eight rushing plays outside of that series in the shadow of the goalposts.

Plus, Gronkowski was in a three-point stance for just nine of his 48 snaps, so they’re clearly being cautious about immersing him in higher-impact situations. Gronkowski was wearing a padded sleeve to protect the left forearm that was surgically repaired four times, and he said he’ll continue to wear it the rest of the season.

Though he said it’s “second nature” at this point, it’s natural to expect him to feel some hesitance in those car crash situations at the line of scrimmage until the comfort level rises.

Until that happens, his presence in the passing game will garner an increased level of importance, especially after a game in which he was targeted 17 times by Brady.


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