FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The essence of a spring practice for most players is to build a foundation for training camp while fine-tuning fundamentals. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski provided one example of that on Monday.
It was the head-and-shoulders route.
On the play, Gronkowski aligned at the 3-yard line, with undrafted tight end Bryce Williams holding a blocking pad at the goal line. Gronkowski ran toward Williams and then worked to combine his head-and-shoulders fake with sound footwork before breaking the route to the corner of the end zone to make the catch.
After the practice, I asked Gronkowski about that specific part of practice.
"That's a route, when you're going to your left or right you want to give the whole head and shoulders, not just a little leg step," he explained. "You want to give the whole-body feel, to get the defender to think you're going that way and then pop the other way. You have to have a couple moves and tricks to get open."
This type of play highlights part of what sets Gronkowski apart from his NFL peers, and also how the Patriots might double their pleasure with Gronkowski and new tight end Martellus Bennett.
According to ESPN's Stats & Info, Gronkowski had 28 receptions when he was lined up wide left or wide right, the most of any tight end in the league. Meanwhile, Bennett had 19 catches last season when lined up wide left or right, which was tied for third among tight ends.
How unique is this across the NFL?
Consider that splitting Gronkowski out wide resulted in him being targeted 61 times on those plays (including playoffs), which according to ESPN Stats & Info was 30 times more than any other tight end. That especially showed up in the red zone, when Gronkowski scored three receiving touchdowns when lined up wide left or right inside the 3-yard line.
We got an up-close look at Gronkowski's goal line arsenal in Monday's practice.