Rob Gronkowski still doesn’t look like the offensive force we have seen in the past, but New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels thinks the tight end is getting there and will continue to see his workload increase as the season progresses.
“I definitely think that Rob has made some plays for us. I certainly think that will continue and hope that will continue,” McDaniels said. “We are trying to work him back into the game plan to an overall level where he can contribute the most.
“And I think each week we have done a little bit more, and hopefully we can continue to do that. I think that any time you are talking about a player who is coming off a situation like Gronk was, you have to be smart and you do what you can do. I’m happy with the things that he has done so far, and we will continue to add more as we go through the year.”
Gronkowski played 38 of 86 snaps against Miami, 28 of 67 against Minnesota (a drop likely due to the use of extra offensive lineman Cameron Fleming at tight end) and 42 of 73 snaps against Oakland. The increased workload against the Raiders is a good sign that Gronkowski is inching closer toward being a steady contributor to the offense.
It goes without question that the Patriots need Gronkowski, especially in the red zone. As wide receiver Julian Edelman continues to be the focal point of the Patriots’ passing game, Gronkowski’s re-emergence will need to come sooner than later. That said, McDaniels doesn’t want to rush Gronkowski back to full action, as he reminded media that Gronkowski is coming off of a serious knee injury.
“Like I said, you are mindful of anybody who has missed -- whether it is a specific portion of camp or whatever it is -- how you integrate those players back in," McDaniels said. "And hopefully that is what we are doing and try to get him to do that each week.”
A moment that stood out in Gronkowski’s progression was a 16-yard catch in the second quarter Sunday to set up the team in the red zone. Gronkowski lowered the pads and dragged four Raiders defenders -- basically, Gronk being Gronk.
The Patriots will need more of that because they need versatility in the passing game. McDaniels said the increase is coming.
“Rob has done the things we have asked him to do. He has been fine in terms of his assignments and his conditioning,” McDaniels said. “But we just have to try to add to it as we go throughout the course of the year.”