Even if he doesn’t practice at all over the next two days, that doesn’t necessarily indicate Rob Gronkowski won’t play in the Super Bowl. There’s typically a walk through Saturday, and plenty of time to test his injured ankle before game time Sunday.
And failure in those two glass case scenarios still doesn’t spell doom. As we’ve written in this space before during our daily Gronk ankle updates, high-ankle sprains are unpredictable, and while they may severely limit a players’ ability to be his beastly self, they’re not always crippling.
With that mandatory preamble that’s designed to quiet your rabbles over with, here’s the new development that’s the same as all the old developments:
Patriots left guard Matt Light was a full participant after recovering from his bout with the flu, but that’s clearly a far lesser concern.
Earlier today during New England’s media availability, Gronkowski said he’ll be talking with team trainers about a special cleat to protect his left foot during Sunday’s game. The mere fact that such a discussion is taking place validates what we’re all thinking–even if it’s in a limited capacity, the Patriots will pursue every possible avenue to get Gronk on the field.
They’ll be motivated to do that by more than simply his status as a dominant, game-changing player, because his absence dramatically impacts New England’s game plan and the rest of their offense. Along with Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots used two tight ends on 81 percent of their regular-season plays and 88 percent of their post-season snaps so far, according to ESPN stats and information.
If Gronkowski is either sidelined of significantly limited, the logical conclusion is that both Hernandez and a wide receiver will have to step up to account for the lost receiving threat. But there’s just a little problem with that handy piece of patchwork. Wide receivers not named Wes Welker have made painfully marginal contributions in the Patriots’ offense.
Welker was targeted often down the middle, and he easily led the team and the entire league this year with 122 receptions. Then Gronkowski and Hernandez followed, with the tight end duo combining for 169 catches. But the closest receiver to Welker was Deion Branch with a very modest 51 receptions and 43.9 yards per game, while running back Danny Woodhead’s 18 catches were more than Chad Ochocinco’s infamous 15.
Branch certainly has the talent and skill to step up into a greater role, but his ability isn’t central to this discussion. The cavernous gap between his reception totals and those of Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Welker shows how little the Pats’ offense is structured to include secondary receivers, and how much that structure centers around the two tight ends.
If Gronk isn’t Gronk then the Giants will also be free to key on Hernandez and limit his effectiveness. And there’s this from ESPN…
Less or no Gronkowski could also limit the versatility of Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski has taken 61 percent of his snaps attached to the line of scrimmage. In contrast, Hernandez has taken 66 percent of his snaps and caught 52 of his 90 receptions when split out wide or in the slot. The Patriots may keep Hernandez in more often to compensate, which could lead to fewer mismatches.
Here are the other notables who participated but were limited in today’s practices:
RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), WR Hakeem Nicks (shoulder), DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle, knee), CB Corey Webster (hamstring), LB Jacquian Williams (foot)
T Marcus Cannon (ankle), S Patrick Chung (knee), LB Dane Fletcher (thumb), DT Kyle Love (ankle), G Logan Mankins (knee), LB Rob Ninkovich (hip), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), T Sebastian Vollmer (illness, back, foot), WR Wes Welker (knee), LB Tracy White (abdomen)