February 03, 2018

After missing Super Bowl LI, Gronkowski wasn't letting anything get in his way this time around

Eagles NFL
USATSI_10557367.jpg David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski warms up before the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.

MINNEAPOLIS — The only thing missing is the green skin. That’s the first thought that may come to mind if you stand close enough to New England Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski, who’s all of 6-foot-6, and weighs all of his listed 265 pounds. The second thought is that human beings aren’t supposed to be built this way, let alone run, and catch, and have Gronkowski’s agility.

Imagine trying to tackle a stampeding hornless rhino and you’ll have a good idea of what the Eagles will be faced with on Sunday in Super Bowl LII.

Gronkowski suffered a concussion in the Patriots’ 24-20 AFC Championship win over Jacksonville on Jan. 21, after a second-quarter helmet-to-helmet hit by Jacksonville safety Barry Church, who was later fined $24,309 for the hit.

A healthy Gronkowski will make things far more difficult for the Eagles — and “Gronk” says he’s healthy.

“It feels good,” said Gronkowski, in reference to being cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol on Thursday so he could play on Sunday. “That was part of the plan the whole time to get cleared. I knew it was going to happen. I was going through the protocol, whatever the standards were, whatever they had me do.

“I would say that they were on the cautious side of getting me out there right away with the bye week and everything in between. I did step-by-step every day. Everything went smooth and I officially got the word [Thursday] from the doctors. It was super nice to hear.”

Gronkowski, who missed Super Bowl LI coming off back surgery, which relegated him to injured reserve, admitted that he practiced with the Patriots on Thursday. He said he ran through the normal process he does every practice and felt no ill effects of the concussion.

“I was able to do everything that I was asked to do out there on the field,” Gronkowski said. “I’ll be ready to roll in the game. We’ve been having a couple of good practices this week, and it was good to be out there with the boys, getting the chemistry down.”

When asked if Tom Brady said anything to him, Gronkowski said Brady knew he was going to be ready.

Gronk also said he wouldn’t be limited in any way.

“I’ll be full speed, taking on hits, blocking, running routes, whatever,” Gronkowski said. “I’m super excited. I’m always excited to get back out there on the field. It’s one more opportunity this year to go out there and play the game I love to play. [There was no doubt] but I was obviously being cautious, too.

“I didn’t want to jump right into right away. The team didn’t want to do it. The training staff here did a great job.”

Gronkowski dismissed the Church hit as being labeled dirty. “It’s football,” he said.

As for the Eagles, “They’re a very, very good team,” Gronkowski said. “They play hard, they’re fast, and they’re physical. But it all depends on how you play on Sunday. On pen-and-paper, you can match up good, they can match up well, and it doesn’t matter. It matters who executes the best and who plays the best on Sunday.

“The Eagles do play their defensive ends on the Wide-9 and I haven’t really seen that much of it this year. It caused problems. They set the edges really well and you have to create lanes in the passing game. It all comes down to matchups and how you execute on Sunday.”

Gronkowski also has a good idea he’ll be matched up against Eagles’ Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins. Gronk said he respects Jenkins’ running ability and he tackles well.

“He’s a solid, solid player in every area of his game,” Gronkowski said.

“I’m happy to be back,” Gronkowski said. “There were no problems [when he took hits]. I would say there was plenty of contact [in practice]. I knew I was good to go. Every chance to play in the Super Bowl you have to cherish the moment to the max no matter what.”