A day after Rob Gronkowski told reporters he would be playing in Sunday's regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he is not ready to make a decision on the tight end's playing status.
"I'm glad that Rob is optimistic about his situation," Belichick said on a conference call Tuesday. "We will go through a week of practice, look at everything and everybody and see where everybody is at and try to do what's best for the team.
"With all due respect to Rob that he feels the way he does, but in the end we will have to make the decision that we feel is best for the team."
Gronkowski, who underwent surgery on a torn right ACL on Jan. 9, sat out all four preseason games but said Monday that he is physically and mentally ready to go for the regular season and would be playing in Week 1.
"Rob has been practicing and we have been doing some different things, building our offensive system and packages as we go throughout the course of the year, and he has been part of that," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday. "Whatever we can or are available to use him to do -- however big, small -- whatever the decision is, he will be ready to do it."
Regardless of Gronkowski's status, McDaniels said the Patriots are preparing to play aggressively on offense.
1. Rob Gronkowski's decision to publicly state that he would play in the season opener.
2. Following up on the Logan Mankins trade.
3. Claiming safety Don Jones from the Dolphins and if that reflects poorly on the Patriots based on Jones' past team-based suspension.
4. Closer look at the composition of the roster, which is heavy at defensive line and light at linebacker.
5. Linebacker Darius Fleming -- a story of perseverance.
6. What's happening at the long snapper spot?
7. Trading quarterback Ryan Mallett and if it's too generous to put a positive spin on it.
"Well, I hope so. The more guys we get out there the better," Brady said. "We just started the week of practice, so I think everyone is trying to get out there, learn each other and the final roster has finally been picked. Whoever is on the active roster has to be ready to go. We are going to need contributions from everybody.
"If Gronk can be one of those guys then I think that makes our team better. But, we have a lot of playing and contingency plans for everybody being out. That's just what we have to do. ...
"Being [Gronkowski's] teammate for the last four years we know what he can bring to the team -- what his ability is out there, what he is capable of by not only his own ability but how it helps the other guys out there too. We have a good group of guys, so that if they are going to cover Gronk then we have to throw to the other guys and when he is out there he is obviously a great target."
Ready to get the season started. With the preseason in the books, Brady is fired up for the regular season to start.
"Absolutely. These count. This goes in the final standings," Brady said. "This is when you are expected to be at your very best and every bit of preparation that we have done for the last six months -- the end of last season -- comes down to this particular day. Yeah, there is a lot of urgency to this week. You can't afford any mistakes. The guys that are out there, those guys have done the best job over the course of the offseason to put themselves in the best position to help our team. I'm excited. I think it's a different feeling yesterday than all year because we have been off for so long and finally we get an opportunity to go out there and do something that really counts."
"I watched him a lot last year because we had a lot of games where we saw Tampa play in and said who is this young No. 81 who looks like a good player?" Brady said. "So, I am excited to have him on our team. He's a good player. ... Hopefully he can go out there and keep making [plays] because we are going to that position to be a big contributor on the team this year."
Let the defense prove itself. The Patriots' potential for improvement on defense has people abuzz. But, Brady adds perspective that every team feels excited heading into the season:
"Everyone thinks this time of year the whole team is improved -- we have made all these changes and this player is gone, thankfully, and now we have this guy coming to save the day. Everyone thinks every year their team is better. There's 32 teams that are very hopeful when in reality that's probably not the case -- just hope and opinion. That's why we go out there and play and put everything out there on field. You go out there and give everything you have got every single week to see where you are at. My opinion doesn't matter because [the defense] is going to get a chance to go out there and prove it anyway."
“It hasn’t really sunk in,” he said.
Garoppolo was balancing the excitement of earning the job with the short-term goals of the team, which are preparations for the regular-season opener in Miami on Sunday.
“We’re on the Dolphins right now. It’s one of those things, the game goes on,” Garoppolo said. “We just have to be ready for the Dolphins and prepare like it’s a normal week for us.”
Asked what it means to have the vote of confidence from the coaching staff, Garoppolo said, “It always helps, giving you confidence. But it’s one of those things, you have to have confidence in yourself and if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything really. …
“I feel confident, but I have a long way to go still. I’m still a rookie, still have a lot to learn, the whole playbook, defenses and everything.”
Looking back on the preseason, Garoppolo’s confidence started to rise after his performance in the opener Aug. 7 against Washington.
“I don’t know if everything changed for me, but it was definitely a stepping stone,” he said of that game. “It gave me some confidence and got me ready for everything else that came after it.
“I thought [the preseason] was good. It was a good first experience. Training camp, overall, went well. We’re on to the season now and these are the games that really count. Everything steps up a notch really.”
Under Armour has signed a model to be part of its new women's campaign. And not just any model -- Mrs. Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen.
Sources tell ESPN.com
On Tuesday morning, the shoe and apparel brand posted a teaser video on YouTube featuring the world's top-earning model, who is married to the New England Patriots' star quarterback. In the video, Bundchen is seen wearing the brand's gear and heading into an empty loft with a heavy bag hanging from the ceiling. It ends with the promise of more to come about the relationship Thursday.
In 2010, Brady joined Under Armour, receiving an undisclosed piece of the company for his endorsement. Although Brady has been selective with his endorsements, landing Bundchen might have been harder.
Last month, Forbes magazine said she was the highest-earning model in the world for the eighth year in a row, pulling in an estimated $47 million. In comparison, Brady received a $30 million signing bonus for a restructured and extended deal he signed last year with the Patriots, and he has a $2 million base salary for this upcoming season.
ESPN.com New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Miami Dolphins
The Patriots' ability to handle the heat and humidity will be critical, and conditioning has been a big part of training camp. The Dolphins have a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, so there will be a bit of a new twist to preparations of a familiar foe. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at Minnesota Vikings
Week 3: Oakland Raiders
Don't see the Raiders being able to come into Gillette Stadium and beat the Patriots, even though I think Derek Carr is the better option at quarterback over Matt Schaub. That's a tough spot for the Raiders, who travel to London the next week. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead Stadium is a tough place to win. When the schedule was initially released, I figured the Chiefs would get this one, but I'm reversing course now. Prediction: Win
Week 5: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals got the Patriots last year in Cincinnati. I don't think they pull it off again, even though this is a good spot for them coming off the bye and with the Patriots on a short week. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Buffalo Bills
Looks like the Bills still have big questions at quarterback. In that case, it's hard to invest in them in this game. Prediction: Win
Week 7: New York Jets
The Jets' defense could play New England tough, but I'm not betting against Darrelle Revis in this one. Prediction: Win
Week 8: Chicago Bears
With a long week to prepare, it's hard to pick against the Patriots. The Bears could be a tough matchup with two top-flight receivers, but the Patriots are always tough to beat at home. Prediction: Win
Week 9: Denver Broncos
Next year's game will be in Denver if the teams both finish in the same spot in the standings. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady -- it never gets old. Prediction: Win (in overtime)
Week 11: at Indianapolis Colts
This is the iron part of the schedule. I think Andrew Luck finally breaks through against the Patriots, in part because the game is at Lucas Oil Stadium. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Detroit Lions
Tough spot for the Lions, following up a road trip to Arizona and then playing the following Thursday on Thanksgiving. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Green Bay Packers
Not easy to win at Lambeau Field. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the season. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: at San Diego Chargers
Asking a lot of the players in this tough, back-to-back road stretch. The Chargers are one of the more underrated teams in the NFL. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: Miami Dolphins
The Patriots always seem to fair well against the warm-weather Dolphins at home in December. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at New York Jets
There's always one game that surprises us and we never saw coming. Could this be the one? Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Buffalo Bills
Another season finale against the Bills, just like last year. Should be the same result. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 12-4
"I haven't really spoken to anybody about it, so I have my own personal feelings that are very personal to me," Brady said during his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI's "Dennis & Callahan" program.
"I love Logan. Logan was a great friend of mine. Nobody stood for Patriots football more than him. ... I dealt with whatever feelings I had last week, but I've moved on. I have to move on, because that's what this team expects me to do."
Brady was asked if it has become any easier for him over his 15-year career to rationalize how the business side of the game works.
"Absolutely not," he responded. "I'm a very person-to-person type of person, a very emotional person. I don't think those things have ever gotten easier for me. I don't think they ever will. But you have to come to grips with it also, and learn to deal with things in a mature way.
"We, as players, it's the business side of things. We're out there to play, we're not out there to run businesses. We're there to enjoy the camaraderie with our teammates, enjoy the playing experience with our teammates, and play for one another. And you deal with whatever comes up and then you move forward.
"There's nowhere I'd rather play, I know that," Brady answered. "I love playing for this team and I love representing this team and hopefully I can do that for as long as I can. When I suck, I'll retire, but I don't plan on sucking for a long time. So hopefully that leads me to being here and there's no place I'd rather be.
"Like I said, I love this game and I love working hard at it. I've had a lot of people over the years tell me the things I couldn't do. I think that's always been great motivation for me to try to go out there and accomplish things I think I can do. Hopefully it's to continue to play at a really high level for a long period of time."
When asked if it bothered him to see boyhood idol Joe Montana of the 49ers in a Chiefs uniform at the end of his career, Brady said: "That goes back to the business side of football. I don't know what that situation was, I wasn't really around when those decisions were made.
"You know, you're expected in this business to perform. That's what football is about. This is not a personality contest. This is a very highly competitive game where your physical skill set and what it means to the team, they place a value on that. If that value fits within the range, then great. If it doesn't, they don't want you and then you go somewhere else to play.
"Once no one else wants you, or you don't want to play anymore, that's when you retire. Some guys make the decision to retire early. So I like working hard at it and I'm going to try to be the best I can be for as long as I can be that.
"Hopefully the team values that and if they don't, then I'll probably have a tough day at some point. But that's what football is all about."
When host Gerry Callahan remarked to Brady that he seemed like the type of player who would have to have his jersey taken away from him, Brady said, "Yeah, probably. But at the same time, I mean, you have long-term goals in your head because those are the things that motivate you and sustain you when you think long-term. But the reality is, in football, it's a contact sport and anything can happen at any time. Anybody's career could end on one particular play, so you have to temper that with your short-term goals, too.
"So you have long-term goals because those motivate you over the course of the year. Then you have short-term goals, where in moments like this, you're not focused on your football mortality. You're focused on what you can be this particular week. This game changes so quickly and things happen all the time, every week, that change the course of people's careers and lives, and the course of the team, and if you can just focus on the short-term when you focus on the short-term, and focus on the long-term when those are the things to focus on, then that serves you best. You always have goals in the back of your mind, personal goals. Certainly this time of year you put aside whatever personal goals you have for the success of the team, because it's a team sport.
"Our guys have worked really hard to get ourselves in this position to go out there and be at our best this year, because that's what matters. This year is most important. It's the only year we have. ...I'm excited for this year and what we have. Anything after this year, that's to be dealt with at a later time. That's kind of the point where I'm at now."
They have an entirely new offensive line, which is not necessarily a bad thing after quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked an NFL-high 58 times last season. Meanwhile, their defensive line has not only quality depth, but also high-end quality across the board that is a tough matchup for a Patriots offensive line in transition.
So for those who believe that winning football games starts at the line of scrimmage, there is reason for optimism in Miami.
Of course, there is more to it than that, and another major storyline with the Dolphins is a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor, who is installing a Chip Kelly-based, Eagles-type attack. The Dolphins hope to play fast and give Tannehill better protection as he continues to grow into the job in his third NFL season.
For more on the Dolphins, below is our weekly primer.
Head coach: Joe Philbin (third season)
Offensive coordinator: Bill Lazor
Defensive coordinator: Kevin Coyle
General manager: Dennis Hickey (first season)
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE
1. Left tackle Branden Albert. The former Kansas City Chief was the Dolphins' big signing in free agency, inking a five-year, $46 million contract. He entered the NFL in 2008 as Kansas City's first-round pick and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Albert is considered a good athlete, and his matchup against Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones should be a good one.
2. Right tackle Ja'Wuan James. The Dolphins' 2014 first-round pick out of Tennessee (19th overall), he has been locked into a starting role since Day 1. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound James, who has 35-inch arm length, started all 49 games he played at Tennessee to set a school record for an offensive lineman and is battle tested from playing in the SEC.
3. Tight end Charles Clay. The four-year veteran out of Tulsa drew the respect of Patriots coach Bill Belichick last year in the sense that Belichick assigned matchup cornerback Aqib Talib to cover him at times with the intention of taking away the middle of the field. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Clay is coming off a terrific 2013 season in which he totaled 69 catches for 759 yards and six touchdowns. He was held out of the first two preseason games (knee) before making his preseason debut against the Cowboys.
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
2. Defensive end Olivier Vernon. Everyone knows about Cameron Wake, who is one of the NFL's most dynamic pass-rushers, but Vernon has also come into his own. He totaled 11.5 sacks last season while starting 14 games. The 6-foot-2, 268-pound Vernon was a third-round draft pick of the Dolphins in 2012 out of Miami.
3. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The former Tennessee Titan and St. Louis Ram starts opposite Brent Grimes, and has usually moved into the nickel position in sub packages. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Finnegan enters his ninth NFL season and has earned the reputation as one of the NFL's top agitators.
OTHER NOTES: Second-round draft choice Jarvis Landry, of LSU, had been serving as the top punt returner in the preseason. ... Former Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno inked a one-year deal as a free agent and teams with the speedy Lamar Miller as Miami's 1-2 punch. ... Starting center Mike Pouncey won't play after undergoing hip surgery in June. ... Former Lions safety Louis Delmas signed a one-year deal in the offseason and starts. ... Starting safety Reshad Jones and 2013 first-round draft choice Dion Jordan (defensive end) are suspended for the first four games of the season. ... Holliston, Massachusetts, native Chris Grier serves as Miami's director of college scouting.
Jones, a 2013 seventh-round draft choice out of Arkansas State, played in 16 games last season for Miami. His primary contributions came on special teams as a gunner and led the club with 11 special teams tackles last year.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Jones joins a deep safety corps in New England that includes Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon. Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner. It's one of the few positions where the Patriots figured to be seeking depth.
One line of thinking is that the Patriots could potentially receive some Dolphins-based intelligence from Jones leading into the Sept. 7 season opener between the teams. Jones made headlines in May, and earned a suspension from the Dolphins, for his tweets on Michael Sam's reaction to being drafted.
As for Barker, the Patriots have groomed him over the past year after claiming him on waivers from Miami at the final cutdown last year. Barker, a guard who also played left tackle in training camp and preseason, would almost certainly sign to the team's practice squad if he clears waivers.
The Patriots kept 10 offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster, which is a bit higher than the league average.
The Patriots didn't immediately sign McDermott, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco last year and won a training camp competition over veteran Brian Jennings. McDermott took pleasure in being the team's most anonymous player in 2013.
The 24-year-old, who played in college at UCLA, was waived by the 49ers on Saturday in favor of Kyle Nelson, who is known more for his coverage skills.
As the Patriots sort through their snapper-in-transition situation, they currently have Charley Hughlett on the practice squad and veteran Rob Ninkovich as the top option on the 53-man roster.
It would be a surprise if the Patriots go into Sunday's season opener against the Dolphins with Ninkovich as the primary snapper.
Siliga ready for Sunday. Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who has been out with an injured left wrist since Aug. 5, is expecting to play in Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins. “I feel great, I’m ready to get this thing going and ready to play on Sunday,” Siliga said. Siliga said he needs to shake off some rust after missing significant time. “It’s been about a month since I have taken my last snap, so that’s what today is for and the next few days -- to get back out there running around with the fellas and see what I can pick up.”
Ninkovich focusing on defense. With an opening at long-snapper on the active roster since Charley Hughlett is a member of the practice squad, defensive end Rob Ninkovich is the only player with experience in that role. “Whatever it is I’m doing, we all have multiple roles but again I’m going to focus in on playing defense and special teams,” Ninkovich said. “I’ve done [long-snapping], something that if there was ever an opportunity for me to go out there and do it, I can do it. I have done it before.” Ninkovich is confident in his ability to snap, if needed. “I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s something I’ve always worked on and been able to use that and have it in my back pocket whenever there is an issue. If the snapper hurts his hand or something, I can go out there and get the job done.”
Wright tough on himself. Tight end Tim Wright’s toughest critic may be himself. When asked about what he did right and what he can improve on from his debut with the Patriots in Thursday’s preseason finale, he came down hard on himself. “Everything wasn’t done right. Playing fast, just going out there and doing my job. Catching balls and blocking doing whatever the coaches ask.” But Wright feels ready to contribute wherever the team wants him to play, whether that is at tight end or wide receiver. “I feel like I can be used in all types of ways, but it’s up to the coaches to determine that and see what fits best for me and my teammates,” he said. “Football is football at the end of the day. It’s a ball and whatever that description may entail, that’s what I will just go out there and try to do.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Things happened fast on Monday morning at New England Patriots team headquarters. Tight end Rob Gronkowski announced that he would play in the team's Sept. 7 opener at the Miami Dolphins, and just moments later, Gronkowski's breaking news was a top story on "SportsCenter."
That's when the question was asked to this reporter on the air: What does it mean for the Patriots?
The answer: Everything.
OK, that might be overstating it a bit given the team's prior success without Gronkowski, but it goes without saying that the Patriots' offense takes on a much different look with Gronkowski on the field. The first place to look is the red zone.
Consider these stats from 2013:
With Gronkowski on the field from Weeks 7-14, the Patriots had a 69 percent efficiency rate in the red zone.
With Gronkowski sidelined from Weeks 1-6, and Weeks 15-17, it was 43.5 percent.
So as the Patriots gradually ease Gronkowski into the mix, as they did last year when it took five games before he was playing every snap, one would think the Patriots want him on the field for every possible red zone play. That's where his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame and his unique skills show up most.
Perhaps no better example of the effectiveness and attention Gronkowski draws in the red zone came in last year's 24-20 loss to Carolina on Nov. 18. In the third quarter of that game, he lined up split wide left, fought through a jam to run a slant and dragged three defenders into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Then other times, the attention defenders gave to Gronkowski in the red zone opened opportunities for others.
So while it might not be until a quarter of the way into the season that Gronkowski is an every-play option for the Patriots, the first place we'll be looking for him Sunday is inside the 20-yard line.
That's where he does some of his most notable work.
“Hey, if they put me as wide receiver, you know I will be doing that, too,” Vollmer said jokingly. “I’ll do what they want me to do.”
When asked if the team has raised the possibility of him playing guard, Vollmer did not provide an answer.
Vollmer has been the team’s starting right tackle for three seasons, but also played some left tackle during his first season. He has never played guard at any level.
After the Aug. 26 trade that sent Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay, the Patriots could have a void there despite second-year lineman Josh Kline playing all 70 snaps in the preseason finale against the New York Giants.
“You never want to lose a guy, but it’s the time of year where that happens,” Vollmer said about the Mankins trade. “He’s not the only one; obviously he is a friend of a lot of us, played a lot of plays with the guy. But it’s time to step up and go forward and play my game.”
Mankins brought a no-nonsense style of leadership to the team as well, but Vollmer said the team is adjusting.
“Nobody plays forever so it’s a steady turnaround,” Vollmer said. “You never have the same team from one year to another; that’s just how it is.”
As the Patriots work to find the right combination on the offensive line, Vollmer knows that talent is not a concern.
“I think we have a lot of good guys on the football team, especially on the offensive line,” Vollmer said. “It’s just kind of the way that business goes; it’s time for somebody else to do it and hopefully go out and do a good job this week.”
Vollmer is excited about the season opener at Miami and said it will be a good test for everyone. As for whether his test will come at left guard, we will have to wait and see.
Here is the Patriots' initial practice squad:
DE Jake Bequette -- 2012 third-round draft choice has appeared in eight games over two seasons with the Patriots but hasn't registered any statistics.
WR Josh Boyce -- 2013 fourth-round draft choice out of TCU. Played in nine games with the Patriots last season, totaling nine catches for 121 yards and returning nine kickoffs.
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson -- The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Sacramento State alum has been with Miami (2011), Minnesota (2012-2013) and San Francisco (2011, 2013-2014) after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He does not have any regular-season stats.
LB Ja'Gared Davis -- Davis was claimed on waivers from the Texans in August of 2013 and played in one regular-season game and two playoff games last season on special teams.
S Kanorris Davis -- In his first year out of Troy, Davis appeared in three regular-season games and two playoff contests last season for the Patriots in a special-teams-type role.
RB Jonas Gray -- First-year running back out of Notre Dame, a bigger presence at 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, did some good things in the preseason for the Patriots.
LS Charley Hughlett -- The first-year snapper was with the Patriots for a few months this offseason and has also spent time with Dallas and Jacksonville. He has not snapped in a regular-season game.
OL Chris Martin -- Rookie offensive tackle from Central Florida joined the team in June as an undrafted free agent and spent training camp on the active/non-football injury list.
LB Deontae Skinner -- Undrafted middle linebacker from Mississippi State was with the Patriots until the cut down to 75 players and adds some depth in practice at a position where the Patriots are thin on their 53-man roster.
CB Daxton Swanson -- The first-year cornerback from Sam Houston State, who stands at 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds, was with the Patriots in training camp and showed good ball skills in practice and games.