Without a 1,000-yard wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks defenders to focus on during Super Bowl XLIX, whatever – or whoever – will be their focus?
How about a 1,000-yard receiving tight end?
Julian Edelman led the New England Patriots with 92 catches and had 972 yards, and fellow wideout Brandon LaFell had 74 catches for 953 yards. But the only Patriot to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark during the 2014 regular season was tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“He’s a terrific tight end—I think he’s a unique guy; the run game, the pass game, the catching radius, and I think at the end of it—just great hands to finish on routes,” Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “So when he’s up in the air, generally he’s strong-handed to come down with it, so those are a few of the things that impress us about him and why we regard him so highly.”
Quinn is far from alone in his respect of Gronkowski. Almost to a man throughout Super Bowl week, Seahawks defenders name Gronkowski as the top threat on the Patriots offense and the lead focus for Seattle’s top-ranked defense.
“He’s a great player. He’s a physical player, so you have to somehow try to match his physicality and battle with him,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You can’t just stop him; he’s a great player. You go up against a great player, you’re not just going to stop him, but you can do your best to contain him and play effectively.”
Gronkowski was the second-most targeted player by quarterback Tom Brady in 2014 – his 131 targets during the regular season were only three behind Edelman – but the tight end’s 13.7-yard average per catch stands as the best in New England.
“Rob always has a great energy and enthusiasm for the game, is always ready to go, loves to practice, loves to work, works hard in the weight room, competes well all the time,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “You never really have to get on Rob and go, ‘You know, that wasn’t your best’ or that kind of thing. He’s always out there working hard.”
Gronkowski has battled through injuries, but Belichick said his top tight end continues to make improvements in his game. Some of that comes with experience and a better understanding of the game as The Gronk has matured.
While his on-field game has upgraded, Gronkowski continues to be known for his enthusiasm on and off the field. He loves to celebrate success on the field and life off the field.
“He’s got a great personality. He’s really been pretty consistent since he got to our team,” Brady said. “I remember seeing him on draft day, he and his family jumping on the stage, and that’s still the way he is. He plays with a lot of fun, a lot of enthusiasm, and he brings a lot of enjoyment for us when we see him excited. He’s spiking the ball and just being him. I was joking (that) I don’t think he’s ever had a bad day in his life. He always seems to have a great time.”
Gronkowski admits that even he has bad days, but he isn’t about to let that affect his approach, especially professionally.
“When I come into work I don’t like it to affect anyone if you’re having a bad day,” he said. “Who hasn’t? If you go to work you always want it to be clean, always want it to be a positive atmosphere in there, for sure.”
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said Gronkowski has “a little juke to him,” but mostly when the Seahawks talk about defending the imposing tight end, the talk comes down to his physicality, and matching that.
That’s why many expect that the main man assigned to Gronkowski will be Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, but he said it will take a group of Gulls to limited Gronkowski’s effectiveness. The irony of Chancellor taking Gronkowski’s morning seat for the afternoon session at Media Day was pointed out to the safety.
“I guess it was destiny. It was destiny for us to have the same seat,” Chancellor said.
Wagner could be part of the plan to ground the Gronk, too, and said “to consider yourself one of the best, you have to handle guys like that.”
Even Vegas likes Gronkowski’s chances to have a major impact on Super Bowl XLIX. According to Bovada.lv, he was given the fourth-best odds – behind Brady and Seahawks Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch – to win the MVP award for Sunday’s game.
He was given the second-best chances, behind Lynch, to score the game’s first touchdown.
“Aw man, Beast Mode. He’s an animal, man,” LaFell said of his teammate. “When you put a corner on him, he’s too small. When you put a safety on him, he’s too slow, man. You know, when Gronk is out there doing his thing he is demanding a double team and if he’s not being double-teamed, he’s out there making plays for us. It opens up the whole offense, the running game. Especially me being outside because when Gronk starts making a lot of plays they’ve got to double team him so that leaves me and Julian and D.A. (Danny Amendola) with a lot of one-on-one coverage.”
Despite all of his success, Gronkowski remains humble, Patriots receiver Matthew Slater said, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
The Seahawks, however, are taking him very seriously.
“He’s big. Fast. I mean, he’s Gronk. He’s an All-Pro, 6-7 guy. He can run,” Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “We’ve told y’all everything that we can tell y’all. It’s Gronkowski. What else do you want me to tell you?”
Grounding Gronk a focus for Seahawks
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