Is there any way to cover Gronkowski?

Posted Dec 5, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the Browns face an enormous challenge in trying to cover Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski Sunday.

The conversation took place about eight years ago in my kitchen.

Rob Gronkowski was in his mid-teens, but had already established himself as an extremely promising athlete – from a highly athletic family – in Western New York. He was part of a group of friends hanging out with my younger daughter, and he took special interest in the fact I was already well into my long career of writing about the NFL.

He had been in my study, checking out the photos and helmets and footballs and other memorabilia collected through the years. And as he took them all in, he wore the confident expression of someone who has long been supremely confident in his talent.

“Someday, Mr. Carucci,” Gronkowski said to me, “you’re going to write a paper about me.”

That day arrived more than three years ago, after the New England Patriots made him a second-round draft pick. At the time, I was working for, covering the entire league.

Now, I find myself still writing about Gronkowski, even with the majority of my work devoted to covering the Browns.

That’s because the Browns are preparing to face the Patriots on Sunday at Foxborough, Mass. And any discussion about any game against the Pats begins with two names: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. OK, three names, if you want to include coach Bill Belichick.

But the primary challenges for the Browns will be figuring out how to contain Brady and Gronk. I didn’t say “stop,” because I honestly don’t believe that’s possible, even if it has been done occasionally.

Brady doesn’t routinely get stopped, which is why he is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. Gronkowski doesn’t routinely get stopped, which is why he is one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history.

The story of the 2013 Patriots is one of a team that started slow, with Brady struggling early on before catching fire as the season progressed. And the simple reason that Brady began playing more like, well, Brady is this: Gronkowski returned after missing the first six games of the schedule while recovering from multiple surgeries on his forearm and back during the offseason.

In the six games since, he has caught 37 passes for 560 yards, with touchdowns in the last four. Gronkowski’s efforts have gone a long way toward giving the Patriots as explosive an offense as any in the NFL on the way to a 9-3 record.

What’s true about Gronkowski today, at age 24, is what was true when he was a teenager. He was simply bigger, stronger, and more athletic than practically everyone else around him. I saw it when he played football. I saw it when he played basketball. I saw it when he played hockey.

Now, he is doing it at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. Gronkowski can deliver devastating blocks. He can run precise routes. He can catch almost every pass that comes his way.

Good luck trying to cover him, but that’s the chore that Browns free safety Tashaun Gipson, among others, faces Sunday. Keeping Gronkowski from taking over the game is a chore that is likely to involve a few defenders, including the Browns’ very best cover man, cornerback Joe Haden.

If they are successful, it will be a big deal. Gronkowski is doing things that even some tight ends with bronze busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – yes, even former Browns great Ozzie Newsome – never did.

It was something he vowed would happen many years ago while standing in my kitchen.

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