Gronk is, for lack of a better term, awesome. In most every way.
From his aversion to shirts to his seismic spikes to his debaucherous cruises, Rob Gronkowski doesn’t just bring the party. He is the party.
There is one notable exception, however.
The NFL’s frat-boy superhero is downright human against the Miami Dolphins.
Yes, he has had a few Gronk-tastic moments at the expense of the Dolphins. His 47-yard touchdown catch-and-run in New England’s home win over Miami a year ago might make his Hall of Fame highlight reel.
But the burly tight end has been wildly inconsistent when facing the Dolphins. He has played the Dolphins 10 times. In those games, Gronkowski has gone over 100 yards just twice; the Dolphins have held him under 30 thrice.
None of this should be taken to mean the Dolphins, who on Sunday will try to win in Foxborough, Massachusetts, for the first time since 2008, are taking lightly his possible return to the field. (The Patriots held Gronkowski out of their opener with a hamstring injury; they listed him as questionable for Sunday.)
The Dolphins are not.
In fact, they prepared for him with a revolving cast. Scout-teamers MarQueis Gray and Thomas Duarte took turns pretending to be Gronk in practice.
“They’re going to have their hands full with that guy,” Gray said. “They know what kind of player he brings to the team. I just try to give them the best look that I can. He’s a hell of an athlete and he’s making a lot of plays, but I think our defense is going to be ready for him.”
Indeed, after last week’s surprisingly strong showing by Miami’s defense, there’s a quiet confidence in the Dolphins’ locker room — whether Gronkowski plays or not.
Perhaps it’s because they’ve locked him down before.
And perhaps it’s because they have one of the league’s best safety tandems in Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus.
The duo was everywhere in the Dolphins’ hard-luck loss to the Seahawks. Jones, fresh off his first Pro Bowl season, led all Miami defenders with 12 tackles, including one for a loss.
As for Abdul-Quddus, he had an interception plus two passes defensed in his first game in a Dolphins uniform. Pro Football Focus named him the No. 1 safety in the league in Week 1.
“The fact that they tackle so well, it’s really good for us,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said of his safeties. “They’re limiting explosive plays. A guy breaks through to the secondary and and they get him down.”
Added Gase: “There are a lot of guys out there that will be in position to make the play and they don’t. These two guys seem to make the play. We’ve seen it a lot in practice, and we’ve seen it translate to the game. It’s very encouraging for us.”
The Dolphins will need much more of the same to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2011.
Even without Tom Brady, who’s suspended the first four games for his role in New England’s ball-deflation scheme, the Patriots have the look of a Super Bowl contender.
They upset host Arizona last week, and Brady’s stand-in, Jimmy Garoppolo, was poised in his first NFL start.
And that was without Gronkowski. His return could only help.
“Gronk is another great piece to their offense,” said Jones, who has lost all six times he has visited Gillette Stadium. “With or without him, we see they can still win football games, but I think he makes their offense a lot better when he’s on the field. If he plays, it’ll be a tough challenge.”
Abdul-Quddus is new to the Dolphins-Patriots rivalry, yet he knows plenty about Gronkowski.
He was a member of the Lions in 2014 when the Patriots spanked Detroit 34-9 in Foxborough. Gronkowski had five catches for 78 yards that day.
Both then and in Miami’s many meetings with New England, coordinators mixed up how they defended Gronkowski. Often, they bracketed him.
But at some point Sunday, Jones and Abdul-Quddus will be alone in space with Gronkowski, assuming he plays.
And how will they handle it?
“Just play my technique,” Abdul-Quddus said. “I really can’t be worried about who’s across from me. I just worry about how I do my thing instead of really worrying about who it is.”
Said Jones: “I think calls probably could change if Gronk plays. He’s another guy who’s a big part of their offense. You definitely need to know where he’s at and make calls around him.”
It has worked before. No reason it can’t work again Sunday.