FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last time the New England Patriots had tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman on the field together for a regular-season game was Nov. 27, 2016. That’s a stretch of 31 games -- almost two full football seasons, when including the playoffs.
But those plans might be on hold.
Gronkowski was held out of the team’s walk-through on Tuesday, as the club determined that staying off his injured ankle was a better course of action than having him go through a light practice session that features more mental-based effort than physical work. Edelman, meanwhile, looked like he had a little extra hop in his step in his first official practice since returning to the club on Monday.
“Obviously, it’s amazing. Great to have him back, because it’s another body for us, and it’s a great one -- he’s Julian Edelman. He’s the leader of our room. We needed him back," Patriots receiver Phillip Dorsett said. "Not having Gronk out there sometimes ... when Gronk does come back, we’re going to be hard to deal with because that’s a lot of bodies thrown at you.”
Because Edelman missed the 2017 season with a torn ACL and Gronkowski’s 2016 season ended after he tweaked his back early in a late-November victory over the New York Jets, Brady and the Patriots have grown used to not having them both in action at the same time. Not that Brady likes it.
Julian Edelman with a little hop in his step upon his return to practice. A walkthrough practice today - more mental work than physical work. pic.twitter.com/bgmH16BJQa— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 2, 2018
“Having really good, dependable players out there is what matters, and I think with those guys -- I’ve played with a lot, so that helps because there’s experience, and we can rely on certain things that we’ve done in the past,” Brady said. “You can make decisions in the heat of the moment that end up being the right decisions because they’ve happened in the past.”
Brady added that when the Patriots have players such as Gronkowski and Edelman on the field together, it also creates more freedom to “incorporate some other guys who are learning and trying to get up to speed.”
New England receiver Josh Gordon, who made his debut on Sunday and caught two passes for 32 yards, is one notable example of that.
Another trickle-down effect is that having Gronkowski and Edelman together helps others on the roster fit into the roles that best suit their skill sets.
Dwayne Allen is an excellent blocking tight end, but when he is called on to play every snap and be a contributor in the passing game when Gronkowski is sidelined, that’s a high bar for him to reach.
Also, receiver Chris Hogan’s production has been down through the first quarter of the season, as he has been thrust into a leading role at receiver without Edelman. Similar to Allen, that’s asking a lot of a player in Hogan who has previously been more of a secondary option.
So when Gronkowski and Edelman are on the field together, it’s almost like the pieces of a puzzle nicely fitting together.
It has been a long time since that happened, and with Gronkowski sidelined from practice, it could be even a little bit longer.