Ga-Ga For Gronk, Crazy For Crumpler

The New England Patriots new tight end, Rob Gronkowski, is my new favorite player. Called, almost appropriately, “Gronk”, he is one of three Gronkowskis in the league this season. Chris Gronkowski plays fullback for Dallas and Dan Gronkowski, is a tight end for the Lions. They are the only set of three siblings in the NFL at this time.

Gronk is an absolute beast. 6’6″ and 264 pounds, and only 21, he is what I like to call a “big fella”. 

His play during the first half of the Rams/Patriots game tonight solidified my good opinion of him. He’s a big, blocking tight end and taking over in a position that’s been largely ineffective the last few years. 

But that’s not all the Patriots did to improve their tight end play.

They added speedy Aaron Hernandez and bull-dozing Alge Crumpler to create a really interesting mix of tight ends that can add wrinkles to the Patriots offense this season. 

And tonight, both Gronk and Crumpler have been showing off. 

In the first half, Gronkowski literally dragged linebacker James Laurinaitis about five yards before diving and just breaking the plane for a touchdown. He looked like a favorite uncle trying to escape the pesky niece or nephew that just won’t let go of his foot. (Video here)

And the Patriots were in the red zone thanks to a huge, on his knees, hands clamped onto the ball catch on the sideline by Alge Crumpler. I’d say that was Sportscenter highlight number one and Gronk’s trip to the end zone number two. (Video here)

 

I would look for Gronk to be a big end zone target in the mold of Mike Vrabel. Vrabel worked as a touchdown target because he was big, quick, and had good hands. Vrabel was two inches shorter and four pounds lighter than Gronkowski. 

And Crumpler will not only provide an experienced blocker with good hands, but his ten years of experience will rub off on his rookie counterparts. 

How much better is this team going to be when you can’t tell if Brady is going to check down to one of his tight ends, or if they will provide blocks for runs or big throws. Plus, it is hard for some of the guys in the backfield, who average about 6′, 200 pounds, to guard someone who is just plain bigger than them. 

Now if only some of the awesomeness of the new tight ends will rub off on the defense, the Patriots will be unstoppable. 

 

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Brady, Manning and the CBA: 18 Games and Counting

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are both in the final year of their contracts this year. The NFL is spiraling towards a lockout in 2011 and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). There might be 18 games in the 2012 regular season. And it’s the all-important week three of the preseason where starters play most of the game.

First off, the ever-present, but not talked about as much as Darelle Revis’s holdout, contract negotiations. One would think this would be one of the summer’s biggest stories, aside from Albert Haynesworth and his conditioning test.

Of course, the two teams and two men under discussion are football-focused and generally mum to the media on any issues.

Tom Brady looks to bounce back this season, another year removed from his knee injury, and he has his favorite weapons of Moss and Welker, plus shiny new tight-ends and a healthy troupe of running backs.

If his young defense picks it up this season, even in a difficult division with a killer schedule, the Patriots should make the playoffs. Again.

And Manning is consistently very good, winning accolades and games. Brady has more rings and is younger, so he should probably be paid a bit more, but both players are looking at contracts upwards of $100 million.

So why haven’t the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts inked their franchise QBs to mega-million dollar deals?

Here are a few reasons:

1. Both teams want their star quarterbacks and are willing to fork up the cash, but both want to say their guy is the highest paid guy. Maybe Robert Kraft (Pats owner) and Jim Irsay (Colts owner) need to call each other up and pay them the exact same.

2. Jim Irsay forgot Peyton Manning is payed to play football. Irsay is so used to seeing Manning on TV in one of his million commercials, he thought he was an actor.

3. Bill Bellichick and Robert Kraft don’t like Tom Brady’s haircut and are hoping to ink a deal once he gets it cut.

4. Why pay a guy millions of dollars if you are just going to lock him out next year?

At least one of those reasons is a joke. The prospect of no football next year is not, however.

The NFL is one of the most successful companies in the country. And yes, it may be a game, but it is still a company in the business of making money.

The players want better health care, which they only receive for five years after retirement. Also, they don’t want to add two games to the season, partially because they are concerned about injury and partially because they won’t be paid extra for the extra games.

The owners want more money. No one goes to the preseason games, so they want more butts in the seats eating popcorn and drinking beer.

As for the lockout? No problem. The owners get paid big bucks next year whether we watch football on Sundays or re-runs of I Love Lucy.

The sides are only miles apart on the issues, and will grow further as the owners approved the “enhanced” season (AKA the 18 game one) today. That would have to be approved by the Players Union, and that’s looking like a big, fat “no” at the moment.

So how do we solve this quandary?

Some suggest a compromise of a 17-game season and 3 weeks of preseason. That won’t work because it’s not “fair”. Some teams would get two home games, others only one.

Okay, how about 17 and 2? And I bet if the owners lowered the price of the games, like baseball does for spring training, you would get more butts in the seats eating popcorn and drinking beer. That’s probably not going to happen.

The players might agree to the 18-game season if they are paid for it and their health benefits are increased. It also wouldn’t hurt to restructure the rookie salaries to be slotted like the NBA, allowing you to pay players based on their merit in the NFL as opposed to what they did in college.

Until this is all sorted out, expect delays on all contract negotiations, even the gimmes like Brady and Manning. And enjoy what football gives this season, we may have to wait another 18 months between this season’s Superbowl and the next season opener.

Pats Points: The Return of Welker, Taylor, and the Running Game

Patriots fans around the country held their breath for a few seconds on Thursday when the New England Patriots took on the Atlanta Falcons in their second of four oh-so-important preseason games. Wes Welker got clocked by Falcons corner back Christopher Owens. But Wes did exactly what he used to do: pop back up like one of those punching bag clowns.

And then we all could breathe. You have to admire his toughness, no one expected him to be anywhere near ready for the preseason, much less the regular season, but it looks like he will be ready for the regular season. And if they want to ease him back in, Julian Edelman is looking like he’s never heard the term “Sophomore Slump”.

The big cloud hanging over the offense is Logan Mankins, and while ESPN can’t get enough of the very dramatic Darrelle Revis holdout, there’s been almost nothing from the Pats camp. Surprised? No. Broadcasters can barely get the starting lineup for preseason games out of the Patriots camp, what makes you think they would ever talk about contract negotiations?

Despite the lack of Logan and the questionable offensive line depth, the Patriots showed us they could do something else: run the ball.

Now with Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss on your team, the offense will throw the ball. Last year the Patriots had a committee of running backs and still did not run the ball well. Fred Taylor reminded the NFL that he still has some left in the tank. Remember, Taylor missed ten games last year with an ankle injury, and Sammy Morris missed some time as well. That left inexperienced BenJarvis Green-Ellis and inconsistent Laurence Maroney to get the bulk of the carries.

This year the committee is back. If everyone stays healthy, the Patriots new dedication to a balanced offense can mean breakout years for the younger guys and getting back to form for Fred Taylor. Kevin Faulk will, as always, be consistent, and be the third down and receiving back.

There are questions that looming for the Patriots: the offensive line, Tom Brady’s contract, Logan Mankin’s holdout, and a few injuries injury, we do know a few things. The offense will be more balanced, barring injury to all like, seven running backs, there will be a ground game. Tom Brady looks much better in the second year off his knee injury. Wes Welker is apparently a freak of nature who heals faster than your average human, Fred Taylor is not as old as we think he is, and none of these questions will be answered before the hobo-like Hood Man Bill Belichick says so. Because the Patriots are like the mob, they don’t talk to anyone about the family.