<
>

Rob Gronkowski sticks to the script

INDIANAPOLIS -- Rob Gronkowski's sprained left ankle is garnering so much attention, like Terrell Owens' ankle at Super Bowl XXXIX and Dwight Freeney's at Super Bowl XLIV, that New York Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson suggested it get its own Twitter account:

@Gronksankle.

Its avatar: a walking boot.

If Gronkowski's performance at media day Tuesday was any indication, it probably would be a boring follow, devoid of breaking news or revelatory insights or details aside from the mundane. Polite? Sure. Informative? Not even close.

I am just going day-by-day every single day. Working with the training staff, whatever they ask me to do, that's all I'm doing. #belichickrules

It's going in the right direction. #whateverthatmeans

It's only Tuesday. #captainobvious

I'm just happy that every single day I get better. #howyoulikemenow

Whatever is best for the team, that's all I am trying to do. #teamplayer

It's not a regular-season game. It's Super Bowl week. It's the biggest game. You definitely have to treat it a lot differently. #duh

This is the Patriots, after all, an organization that has mastered the art of saying nothing. Gronkowski had a script, and during an hourlong grilling interspersed with the typical media day nonsense, Gronkowski never wavered from that script. Not once. Not ever.

Bill Belichick must have been proud. Gronkowski did it the Patriot Way.

When a player enters the New England organization, he gets more than just a playbook. He gets the Patriot handbook for not disclosing anything of interest regarding anything to do with anything about the organization. Not schedules, not plays, not personnel groupings, not what you had for breakfast.

Rule No. 1: Don't discuss injuries. In other words, don't tell the truth, which some people would call lying.

According to Gronkowski, his ankle is improving every day. It is going in the right direction. He is taking his rehabilitation day by day. He is working hard doing everything the trainers ask, and he is focused on getting better.

Rewind. Repeat.

Gronkowski kept his answers so general that he never even confirmed what his own father, Gordy Gronkowski, told a Buffalo television station last week -- that the injury is actually a high ankle sprain. The words "high" and "sprain" never came out of Gronkowski's mouth.

"Who hasn't had an ankle injury?" Gronkowski said at one point. "It's just like any other injury you have on any other body part."

Except it isn't. High ankle sprains often take weeks, if not months, to heal. Gronkowski suffered the injury late in the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore 10 days ago. He didn't practice last week and as recently as Monday was in a walking boot. The Patriots did not practice Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning, Belichick reiterated that Gronkowski is improving but would not say whether the Pro Bowl tight end would practice later in the day.

Big surprise.

Gronkowski isn't your average Joe playing pickup at the Y. The second-year tight end is quite possibly the key to the Patriots beating the Giants. He is big and strong and a matchup nightmare, setting an NFL record this season for receiving yards by a tight end (1,327) and touchdowns by a tight end (17 receiving, 1 rushing). In postseason wins over Denver and Baltimore, Gronkowski had 15 catches for 232 yards and three touchdowns.

Gronkowski is so talented that when Mike Pope saw him at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis two years ago, the longtime Giants tight ends coach said he "saw stardom."

"He reminded me a lot of Jeremy Shockey when he came out because he's so big and so fast and athletic," Pope told me. "They're basketball bodies playing football is really what they are. Jimmy Graham down in New Orleans is another guy I thought, if he gets in the right system, how's the guy going to fail? Nobody can cover him.

"So you almost have to put a defensive corner on these guys. You can't cover them with linebackers. Strong safeties as a rule have a hard time covering them. What it does is it makes you defensively have to change the way you play. If you leave them out in space on a cover guy -- lights-out, they're going to score."

Which makes Gronkowski's status storyline No. 1 here in Indianapolis.

Gronkowski was asked what type of treatment he was receiving. "Just doing what the training staff asks," he said. Asked about how many hours each day he was getting treatment, Gronkowski said, "A pretty good amount."

There was something Gronkowski communicated that was telling, but it didn't come from his mouth. A couple of times, when asked trickier questions, he answered while shrugging his right shoulder in rapid succession.

Had Belichick told Gronkowski what he could and couldn't say? "Has he?" Gronkowski said. "No." Shoulder shrug. Shoulder shrug. "I mean, basically come out here, and you can say what you want to say."

Given the vague answers to pointed questions about his rehab regimen, did he feel as though he was protecting a major secret? "No," Gronkowski said. Shoulder shrug. Shoulder shrug. "It's just a good answer when I say that."

Deflect. Deflect. Deflect. Gronkowski gave good answers for that.

The question is, what do the Patriots want the Giants to think? That Gronkowski is playing? That he will be close to 100 percent? Or that he isn't playing?

The Giants expect Gronkowski to play Sunday, no matter what he says or doesn't say.

"There's no way he's going to miss the Super Bowl," Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty said.

"We practice and we plan as if he's playing," Tollefson said. "That's what you have to do. If you get into that game of trying to figure out what's really going on, you never figure out what's going on, so you've just got to plan for them to be 100 percent and go from there."

Or as @Gronksankle might say: Ask me Sunday. #suckas

Ashley Fox is an NFL columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyMFox.